5 suburban spots that are now on the National Register of Historic Places

  • LILACIA PARK HISTORIC DISTRICT, Lombard: An archway marks the northeast entrance to Lilacia Park in Lombard. A 4.8-acre swath of the park has joined the National Register of Historic Places.

    LILACIA PARK HISTORIC DISTRICT, Lombard: An archway marks the northeast entrance to Lilacia Park in Lombard. A 4.8-acre swath of the park has joined the National Register of Historic Places. Daily Herald file photo

  • Lilacia Park is a popular spot for photographing bridal parties.

    Lilacia Park is a popular spot for photographing bridal parties. Daily Herald file photo

  • The architecture firm Pond & Pond, Martin and Lloyd designed the First Congregational Church in Des Plaines in the arts and crafts style, characterized by a steeply pitched roof and little ornamentation.

      The architecture firm Pond & Pond, Martin and Lloyd designed the First Congregational Church in Des Plaines in the arts and crafts style, characterized by a steeply pitched roof and little ornamentation. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, September 2019

  • The Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was completed in 1934 by Robert Ilg.

      The Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was completed in 1934 by Robert Ilg. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted2/11/2020 5:00 AM

Lombard's lilacs have some serious flower power.

Back in 1996, a shoutout to Lilacia Park on Oprah's talk show added national exposure to the village's crown jewel.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But a new honor may have more lasting influence than even the "Oprah effect."

State officials on Monday formally recognized the Lilacia Park Historic District as one of only five suburban sites added to the National Register of Historic Places in the past year.

The park officially landed on the list during the height of Lilac Time. Which is to say, the designation could easily have been overshadowed by all the hoopla around the blooming purple bushes, a spring ritual celebrated with a parade, concerts, plant sales and the coronation of the "Lilac Queen."

So there's no better time than the dead of winter to revisit why the village's stunning collection of lilacs made the national roster. Here's a closer look at Lilacia Park and the four other registered sites in the suburbs.

Lilacia Park Historic District

A 4.8-acre section of Lilacia Park (pronounced "Lie-lay-sh'uh") deserves the recognition because of its national prominence and its role in shaping the village's identity, said Rita Schneider, the chairwoman of the Lombard Historic Preservation Commission.

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"It's really a beautiful spot in the middle of the downtown of a suburban village that has been around since 1929," Schneider said Monday. "It is Lombard. We are the Lilac Village. Lilacia Park is the basis for that."

The horticultural display is the former estate of Colonel William R. Plum, a Civil War veteran and attorney who became enamored with lilacs while visiting Europe. Upon his death in 1927, Plum bequeathed his lilac collection to Lombard.

Lombard's LILACIA PARK is the setting for Lilac Time, a 17-day celebration returning May 1.
Lombard's LILACIA PARK is the setting for Lilac Time, a 17-day celebration returning May 1. - Daily Herald file photo

In 1929, the property was redesigned by renowned Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen, who also left his mark on the Chicago parks system.

The park now maintains around 700 species of lilacs and about 25,000 species of tulips. Other staggering numbers: The 8,000 visitors that turn out for Lilac Time in May and the 60-page application for the national designation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As part of the nomination process, the historic preservation commission secured a grant to hire a consultant to complete a historic survey of Lilacia Park and other landmarks in Lombard.

"It's always been such a part of Lombard that you can't help but just absolutely love it all times of the year," Schneider said.

Copley Hospital, Aurora

The listing comes as a development group plans to convert the long dormant hospital site into senior housing, residences for adults with disabilities and medical offices.

It doesn't place any obligations on private owners, state officials say, but it does make the property eligible for some financial incentives.

The long dormant site of the FORMER COPLEY HOSPITAL in Aurora could be converted into senior housing, residences for adults with disabilities and medical offices.
The long dormant site of the FORMER COPLEY HOSPITAL in Aurora could be converted into senior housing, residences for adults with disabilities and medical offices. - Daily Herald file photo

Last fall, the city approved a redevelopment agreement with Fox Valley Developers LLC, a group of local investors behind the project.

"This designation is vital to our ability to reinvigorate the Bardwell neighborhood through a complete adaptive reuse of the historic campus," spokesman Patrick Skarr said in a statement Monday. "This is a once-in-a-century opportunity and we thank all of our partners, including those guiding our historic preservation efforts at the property. We are focused on returning the property to a source of pride and prosperity for Aurora."

The campus remained the only hospital in Aurora until 1990.

First Congregational Church, Des Plaines

On behalf of the 150-year-old congregation, local historian Brian Wolf submitted a formal nomination to the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council. Its members unanimously recommended that the National Park Service name the church to the register.

The First Congregational Church in Des Plaines features one of the few prewar architectural styles in the 'burbs.
  The First Congregational Church in Des Plaines features one of the few prewar architectural styles in the 'burbs. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

"I think it's just important to recognize that there are a lot of beautiful places in Des Plaines. I think it will get people to take a step back and notice things," Wolf said at the time of the church's selection.

Construction of the church began in 1928, and it became the congregation's home less than a year later.

The architecture firm Pond & Pond, Martin and Lloyd designed the building in the arts and crafts style, characterized by a steeply pitched roof and little ornamentation.

"There were few high-style, prewar buildings designed by recognized architects in the area, which was just developing as an attractive commuter suburb," Wolf's application notes. "Early significant buildings included schools, a library, a theater, a masonic temple, and banks. None of the surviving buildings are Arts & Crafts, and none were as good examples as First Congregational Church."

Louis Fredrick House, Barrington Hills

Built in 1957, the former residence of interior designer Louis Fredrick was one of about 60 "Usonian" homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Louis Fredrick House, in Barrington Hills, has recently been restored and is called "in excellent condition," according to its nomination for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Louis Fredrick House, in Barrington Hills, has recently been restored and is called "in excellent condition," according to its nomination for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. - Illinois Department of Natural Resources

The famed architect created the homes, usually one-story structures, for "the typical American family," according to the nominating application for the Frederick House.

The original owner actually rejected Wright's concepts for his "dream home" until finally approving a modified version of a house designed for an unbuilt project in Michigan.

The privately owned home recently underwent a meticulous restoration. Sitting on 10 acres, nestled into a hillside, the house features Wright's distinctive use of natural materials and glass panels to provide a connection to the natural world.

THE LEANING TOWER OF NILES is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was completed in 1934 by Robert Ilg.
  THE LEANING TOWER OF NILES is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was completed in 1934 by Robert Ilg. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
Leaning Tower of Niles, Niles

This suburban oddity is the only replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the world.

Robert Ilgair, owner of ILG Electric Ventilating Co. in neighboring Chicago, commissioned its construction as the centerpiece of a park for his employees.

At 94 feet tall, it's about half the size of the original in Italy. It's set to reopen to the public this spring after renovations.

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