West Chicago Community Center spearheads restoration effort
(From the Daily Herald)
West Chicago City Council members have signed off on a plan to save a 144-year-old house that’s considered one of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.
The council on Monday night authorized Mayor Ruben Pineda to enter into an agreement with the West Chicago Community Center, which is vowing to restore the Joel Wiant House at 151 W. Washington St. If the nonprofit group can resolve a list of exterior building code violations by April 30, the city will sell the brick structure to the organization for a dollar.
“We’re excited about the fact that they have stepped up and are going to get the building restored,” Pineda said of the group’s proposal. “None of us wanted to see history destroyed.”
The historic house, owned by the city, was facing possible demolition because it had fallen into disrepair and is within a 14-acre area the city has slated for redevelopment. Landmarks Illinois earlier this year named it one of the state’s 10 most endangered historic places.
Now the Wiant House is expected to get an estimated $300,000 in repairs. And the community center group will pay for all the work.
“We’re going to get people out there as soon as we can,” said David Sabathne, the organization’s president.
West Chicago resident Frank Fokta, who started a website to raise public awareness about the Wiant House, said he’s “enthusiastic and hopeful” about restoration effort. “It’s going to be attractive for the whole community,” he said.
Fokta and others say the house needs to be preserved because it’s a prime example of the “Second Empire” architectural style. It also has ties to two prominent families.
Local businessman Joel Wiant had the home built around 1869. His family owned the house until it was purchased in the early 1900s by John W. Leedle, West Chicago’s first city attorney.
Ownership of the house changed hands several times between 1960 and 2008. It stopped being used as a single-family home during that time.
The structure was last used with offices on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.
By the time a bank foreclosed on the property in July 2011, the house needed repairs and had a variety of building code violations. The city spent $260,000 to buy the property from the bank in November 2011.
Sabathne said his organization plans to return the house to a useful purpose with office and commercial space on the first floor and a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. The group eventually would like to sell the building.
Pineda said the restoration of the Wiant House will be completed before the city breaks ground on its West Washington Street Redevelopment Project. That project, which includes a proposed a new city hall, is still “a few years” away, according to Pineda.
“So it (the Wiant House) might be sitting there by itself for a while,” he said. “But eventually the rest of the project will happen.”