New History for Old Nichols Library

In the 1890s James L. Nichols left $10,000 to the City of Naperville to construct the original Nichols Library. Now the building may be taken down and re-developed.

Dubbed “Nichols Place,” there are two potential designs for the redevelopment of the old Nichols Library on Washington Street. Shown for the first time publicly at a community open house hosted by developer Dwight Avram, these designs would entail dismantling the current structure and reusing the façade and front entryway in the final construction.

“The new development is probably going to take a lot of inspiration from the building that’s already there,” said Avram. “We’re very cognizant of the façade of the existing library and we’re using that inspiration to give us inspiration to do a building that will hopefully live for the next 100 years.”

Both designs feature retail, business and residential areas in a four-story structure, with an additional basement level for parking.

“We believe we will be able to pay as much honor to the heritage of that building as we possibly can, and still keep an economically viable project,” added Avram.

However, there are some in the community who do not support the dismantling and redesign of the building. A petition on GoPetition.com calls on the city to “refrain from any demolition or alteration” of the building, with hundreds from Naperville and around the country signing on.

“My ultimate hope for it is that it’s preserved as-is in place and the developer will not dismantle it and build additional stories above it,” said Charlie Wilkins, a Naperville resident who is working to preserve the current structure. “I think that’s going to ruin the integrity of the building.”

The building is currently occupied by Truth Lutheran Church, who purchased it in the 90’s, at which time a covenant was placed on the building, aiming to preserve its façade and front entryway. The church has since done many interior updates and added an addition.

If Avram, the current owner, proceeds with his construction plans, the Naperville Heritage Society hopes the covenant is kept in mind.

“We do want the façade, at the very least, preserved and honored,” said President and CEO of Naper Settlement, Rena Calabrese. “Anything short of that we believe would not be in the best interest of the city and it would not be keeping in mind the historical and the preservation architecturally and of the story.”

Those opposed to the reconstruction are working to get local landmark status for the old Nichols Library, something it does qualify for.

“It is older than 50 years old, and I think most people would agree that it was owned by a person of significance in the contribution that James L. Nichols made to the construction of the building,” said Vice President for Advancement and Campus Development at Naper Settlement, Debbie Grinnell. “As well as the noteworthiness of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style and the fact that it was constructed with limestone that was quarried in Naperville.”

The landmark status would need to be approved by the Naperville Historic Preservation Commission. If approved, future construction would also need to receive the commission’s seal of approval.

Designs for the development still need to go to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and ultimately must be approved by City Council.

Wilkins hopes to submit landmark status paperwork this month, so the commission can review it this summer.

Naperville News 17’s Evan Summers reports.

 

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