“What Happened to the Old Nichols Library?” by S.M. O’Connor

There are two buildings in downtown Naperville labeled “Nichols Library.”  The 63,300 square-foot new Nichols Library at 200 West Jefferson in the southern part of downtown, near the Riverwalk, is an active library facility and was formerly the central library of the Naperville Public Library (N.P.L.).  After the N.P.L. vacated The Nichols Library or Old Nichols Library at 110 South Washington Street, a couple of blocks to the northeast, it housed a church for about twenty-two years.  Now, if all goes according to plan, it will house a restaurant.  A large mixed-use building will surround it on two sides.

In A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs On Wheels & On Foot, Ira J. Bach referred to The Nichols Library as an example of Romanesque Revival architecture.[1]  When the City of Naperville hired Granacki Historic Consultants to conduct a survey of fifty-three buildings in downtown Naperville, the firm concluded the style of architecture was Richardsonian Romanesque.  Richardsonian Romanesque is a variety of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture that takes its name from the famous American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), who is best known for his designs of Trinity Church in Boston and the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh.  All Richardsonian Romanesque buildings are Romanesque Revival, but not all Romanesque Revival buildings are Richardsonian Romanesque.

DSCN1200Figure 1 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The Old Nichols Library housed Truth Lutheran Church, as seen here on December 4, 2010.  Previously, the building belonged to the City of Naperville.  Earlier this year, Truth Lutheran Church vacated the building.

DSCN1199

Figure 2 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the addition to the Old Nichols Library that has been demolished in 2018, as seen on December 12, 2010.

 

There is a certain allure to being able to say definitively a building is Ricardsonian Romanesque.  Most Ricardsonian Romanesque buildings are quite large and have multiple details that are hallmarks of Richardson and his imitators.  Richardson borrowed elements from Romanesque buildings in three countries (Italy, France, and Spain) and two centuries (the 12th Century and the 13th Century) to develop his own style.  The Old Nichols Library is a relatively small building so it does not have the elaborate massing and towers Richardson liked to incorporate into his designs.  It does, however, have one detail that indicates architect M.E. Bell did want this building to be an example of Richardsonian Romanesque style and not simply Romanesque Revival: the rustication of the limestone.

In 1996, Truth Lutheran Church acquired the Old Nichols Library from the City of Naperville.  Twenty years later, in September of 2016, Truth Lutheran Church, which had a small eighty-person Sino-American congregation with services in Mandarin Chinese and English, acquired a vacant three-acre site at Mill Street and Bauer Road that Naperville had just annexed on which they could erect a purpose-built church.[2]  Earlier this year, the congregation vacated the building.[3]  In March of 2017, Dwight Avram acquired the Old Nichols Library from Truth Lutheran Church.[4]

In May of 2017, new owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown submitted plans to the City of Naperville incorporate the façade and vestibule of the Old Nichols Library into a larger four-story building.[5]  Mr. Avram planned to include a gallery dedicated to James L. Nichols and the history of the Old Nichols Library.[6]  A group called Save the Old Nichols Library formed and in September of 2017, convinced the Naperville City Council to declare the Old Nichols Library a local landmark.[7]  In June, Naperville residents Charlie Wilkins and Barb Hower had requested that the Old Nichols Library receive landmark status and the Naperville City Council voted six-to-three to grant the request.[8]    This made the Old Nichols Library the fourth building to receive the designation, after Truitt House at 48 East Jefferson Street, Thomas Clow House at 5212 Book Road, and the Naperville Woman’s Club at 14 South Washington Street.[9] Mayor Steve Chirico and Aldermen Kevin Coyne and Benny White were the three men who voted against the measure.[10]  With this status, the building would receive some measure of protection as it could neither be demolished nor could the façade be altered without the approval of the Naperville City Council.[11]  Naperville residents, preservationists, developers, and union workers testified and discussed the matter at the Naperville City Council meeting for several hours before the vote.[12]  Over 150 people attended the meeting, and when a Naperville resident named Becky Simon asked everyone who supported preservation of the Old Nichols Library to stand up, most of those 150 people rose from their seats.[13]  Back in September of 2017, the plan for the new building called for it to be named Nichols Place.[14]

In late April of 2018, Landmarks Illinois, a non-profit organization that tries to preserve buildings of historical value, added the Old Nichols Library to the list 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.[15]    In May of 2018, while the 1962 addition was being demolished, Avram and Brown submitted revised plans for the construction of a $21,000,000 mixed-use building that would surround the Old Nichols Library on two sides.[16]  It will have commercial and retail tenants on the ground floor and the upper three floors will be occupied by twenty-one condominiums.[17]    None of the outer walls of the original library building will be removed.[18]    The main doors will be replaced with replicas that meet current building codes; the vestibule will be expanded and the existent mosaic tile floor will be incorporated into the new vestibule space; the roof and windows will be replaced; the façade will undergo tuckpointing; and the stone, bricks, wood, and soffits will be repaired.[19]    Overall, the building will be restored and become A.D.A.accessible.[20]    Mike Elliot of Kluber Architects + Engineers designed the new building, which will have a twenty-eight-space underground garage for residents and an alley with an additional fourteen parking spaces.[21]  The firm had to defend the design before the Naperville Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday, May 24, 2018.[22]    The owners estimated this mixed-use building will raise $1,240,000 in property taxes on land that had never previously been on the tax rolls, almost $1,000,000 of which would stay in Naperville, most of which would go to school districts.[23]

Mr. Avram asked at the Naperville City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 that the vote on giving the Old Nichols Library landmark status be postponed until November 7th so he and the City of Naperville would have time to negotiate with an unidentified third party that was interested in making use of the Old Nichols Library if it was moved next to the new Nichols Library.[24] Avram was willing, under this proposal, to spent $500,000 to move the Old Nichols Library, and another $250,000 to construct a new foundation for it, and the City if Naperville would have sold the parcel of land to the third party.[25]  Mayor Chirico attempted to postpone the vote until November 7th, but the Naperville City Council overruled him in an eight-to-one vote.[26]  Subsequently, the Naperville City Council considered moving the Old Nichols Library to the grassy knoll west of the new Nichols Library or on the grounds of Naper Settlement.[27]  Ultimately, preservationists persuaded Avram and Brown to preserve as much of the Old Nichols Library as possible.[28]

The Naperville Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan.[29]  The 68,000-square-foot building will be called Central Park Place.[30]  The Old Nichols Library will remain a free-standing structure, and the roof and windows will be replaced.[31] It will gain a new entrance plaza, and new lamp-posts that replicate the old lamp-posts.[32] Caton Commercial Real Estate, a property management firm, both helped Truth Lutheran Church acquire its new site, and is set to manage the new building that will surround the Old Nichols Library.[33]

In June, it looked like chemical engineers Derek Krauss and Joe Rehbein might open up a distillery in the Old Nichols Library, but it became apparent after they spoke with Caton Commercial Real Estate about leasing the 120-year-old building, it became apparent that it would not meet their needs.[34]  On Monday, October 1, 2018, Erin Hegarty reported in the Naperville Sun that Christina Caton Kitchel, Director of Leasing at Caton Commercial Real Estate believed they were close to having a restaurant sign a lease for the Old Nichols Library.[35]  Meanwhile, Gail Diedrichsen, a spokeswoman for Save the Old Nichols Library, expressed satisfaction with the cleaning of the brick walls and the new slate roof.[36]

ENDNOTES

[1] Bach, p. 409

[2] Marie Wilson, “Naperville Chinese church moving out of downtown,” Daily Herald, 22 September, 2016 (https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160922/news/160929557/) Accessed 10/12/18

[3] Erin Hegarty, “Property owners propose $21M development for old Nichols Library site,” Naperville Sun, 3 May 2018 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-library-development-proposal-st-0504-story.html) Accessed 08/20/18

[4] Erin Hegarty, “Landmark status granted for Naperville’s old Nichols Library,” Naperville Sun, 20 September, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-landmark-approved-st-0922-20170920-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[5] Erin Hegarty, “Property owners propose $21M development for old Nichols Library site,” Naperville Sun, 3 May 2018 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-library-development-proposal-st-0504-story.html) Accessed 08/20/18

[6] Erin Hegarty, “Developer wants to convert old Nichols Library into stores, condos,” Naperville Sun, 10 May, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-nichols-library-mixed-use-development-st-0512-20170510-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[7] Marie Wilson, ”Restoration, redevelopment of Naperville’s Nichols Library approved,” Daily Herald, 24 May, 2018 (https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20180524/restoration-redevelopment-of-napervilles-nichols-library-approved) Accessed 10/12/18

[8] Erin Hegarty, “Landmark status granted for Naperville’s old Nichols Library,” Naperville Sun, 20 September, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-landmark-approved-st-0922-20170920-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Erin Hegarty, “Could proposal to move old Nichols Library satisfy developers and preservationists?,” Naperville Sun, 19 September, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-nichols-library-demolition-group-st-0920-20170918-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[14] Ibid

[15] Erin Hegarty, “Property owners propose $21M development for old Nichols Library site,” Naperville Sun, 3 May 2018 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-library-development-proposal-st-0504-story.html) Accessed 08/20/18

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Erin Hegarty, “Landmark status granted for Naperville’s old Nichols Library,” Naperville Sun, 20 September, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-old-nichols-landmark-approved-st-0922-20170920-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[27] Marie Wilson, ”Restoration, redevelopment of Naperville’s Nichols Library approved,” Daily Herald, 24 May, 2018 (https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20180524/restoration-redevelopment-of-napervilles-nichols-library-approved) Accessed 10/12/18

[28] Ibid

[29] Marie Wilson, ”Restoration, redevelopment of Naperville’s Nichols Library approved,” Daily Herald, 24 May, 2018 (https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20180524/restoration-redevelopment-of-napervilles-nichols-library-approved) Accessed 10/12/18

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Erin Hegarty, “Could proposal to move old Nichols Library satisfy developers and preservationists?,” Naperville Sun, 19 September, 2017 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-nichols-library-demolition-group-st-0920-20170918-story.html) Accessed 10/12/18

[34] Erin Hegarty, “Old Nichols Library won’t work for craft distillery, other Naperville locations being scouted,” Naperville Sun,15 June, 2018 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-distillery-old-nichols-library-st-0617-story.html) Accessed 10/13/18

[35][35] Erin Hegarty,, “The old Nichols Library in Naperville could be filled with a restaurant,” Naperville Sun, 1 October, 2018 (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/news/ct-nvs-nichols-library-construction-restaurant-st-1003-story.html) Accessed 10/13/18

[36] Ibid

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