Naperville nonprofit offers free mansion -- if government agency pays to move it

  • Little Friends is offering the Kroehler mansion on its Wright Street property to several Naperville-area governmental agencies, hoping one of them will pay to move and preserve it.

      Little Friends is offering the Kroehler mansion on its Wright Street property to several Naperville-area governmental agencies, hoping one of them will pay to move and preserve it. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted8/13/2019 5:28 AM

A disability services agency in Naperville is offering up the historic mansion on its Wright Street campus for donation to several governmental agencies, but so far it hasn't found any takers.

Spokesman Patrick Skarr said Little Friends has approached the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, Naperville Park District, Riverwalk Commission and Naper Settlement offering to give away the 1907 Craftsman-style mansion, which once was home to Naperville furniture company leader and two-time mayor Peter Kroehler, to address "community concern regarding the demolition of the structure."

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The only catch is that the agency that purchases the building would have to pay to move it from its current site.

"We know Little Friends doesn't have the resources or the expertise or the mission to undertake the historic preservation of this specific property. But if another governmental agency wanted to, we'd be more than happy to give them the building -- as long as they assume the cost (to move it)," spokesman Patrick Skarr said. "Not a single entity has indicated any desire."

Little Friends is looking to clear its property of the mansion, two former dorm buildings and a garage in order to sell its 4 acres for full market value, Skarr said. Selling the land would give Little Friends the money to buy an existing building in Warrenville that would provide more space for schools and services to people with autism or disabilities. But the move to Warrenville, for now, is on hold, Skarr said.

In preparation to list the Wright Street property for sale as a residential use, Skarr said, Little Friends has applied through the city for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish all structures on the site.

Neighbors and preservationists have spoken against demolition, saying the mansion deserves to be saved because of Kroehler's significance and because of the site's location within a neighborhood of historic homes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bryan Ogg, a Naperville historian and author who formerly worked for the Naper Settlement, said a sympathetic developer could find a way to turn the buildings into updated residences, if given the chance "to dream and speculate."

If a developer comes forward willing to preserve the buildings and pay market rate, Skarr said, Little Friends would listen.

But in the absence of such a proposal, Skarr said, the organization has documented in its demolition application the letters it sent looking to find the mansion a new home.

The forest district, for one, has replied saying it is not interested and would have no use for the mansion, Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said.

The Riverwalk Commission plans to discuss the donation offer during a meeting Wednesday morning.

The park board has not discussed potentially accepting the mansion, President Rich Janor said.

If it were to take up the topic, Executive Director Ray McGury said he would provide a staff recommendation and recuse himself from his role as a board member for Little Friends to avoid a conflict of interest. He said acquiring and moving the building is not in line with the district's mission, but if the structure were to be moved, the Naper Settlement would be the "logical venue" to house it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Donna Sack, vice president and chief program officer at the Naper Settlement, said the museum has received no offer to take possession of the mansion. If an offer were extended, she said, it would go through a process to evaluate whether the building is a fit for the museum campus and if receiving it would be financially viable. She said the museum board, Naperville Heritage Society board and Naperville City Council all would be involved.

When Little Friends announced its intention last December to sell its property, nearby North Central College was to be the buyer. But North Central agreed to terminate its purchase agreement last month at Little Friends' request after the city changed its process for gaining permission to demolish a structure within the historic district.

Skarr said Little Friends is awaiting a date when its demolition request will be considered by the historic preservation commission.

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