Ah, what to do with the old, original Nichols Library building in Naperville. My heart says one thing, and my head says something totally different. Most folks seem firmly set in one camp or the other, while I have vacillated back and forth (or is it forth and back?). Not knowing which way to go for sure on ‘posting night’ I decided to go with ‘landmarking it’ from the heart point-of-view in this posting, and following it up this weekend with the opposing point- of-view from the head.
The building is almost 120 years old, and it’s still a beautiful building from the outside. The old saying that ‘they don’t build them like this anymore’ qualifies for this building. If the building is taken down, or altered in such a way to lose it’s character, then a piece of Naperville history is gone, only to exist in pictures.
It’s story is compelling, with funding for the original library building given to the city by James Nichols, a local businessman and professor. He wanted children to have what he didn’t have, which was access to books. The library moved to its new location on Jefferson in 1986 and the building was used as a church thereafter. Now a new owner wants to convert it to a four-story building with stores, restaurants, offices and housing.
As with most people-driven actions, it only took a couple of people circulating a petition to seek landmark status for the building and now it churns its way through committees and ultimately the city council to determine its fate. I’m sure at one time or another the city of Chicago had the same situation when discussing the fate of the water tower on Michigan Avenue after the Chicago fire.
If landmark status is approved, and if the current owner decides to withdraw his plan (doubtful), then what becomes of this landmark building? Maybe a bookstore in the spirit of James Nichol’s original goal. Amazon is entering the world of ‘brick and mortar’. This would be ideal and they have the funding to make it work by restoring it on the inside.
Naperville has two downtown bookstores, and the timing of councilwoman Becky Anderson (co-owner of Anderson’s Book Store) running for congress, along with Anderson’s bookstore looking a little exhausted, couldn’t be better. Downtown Naperville could still have two bookstores. If she loses the election, she could be the manager of Amazon’s James Nichol’s Book Store.
If ‘ifs and buts’ were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas.
The most common suggestion is that it become a Tourist Center and Museum. The building has been inspected by several independent engineers since this controversy started and they have found it structurally sound and easily restore-able ( the present owner and developer claims the building is structurally unsound and beyond restoration).
As I have posted on several other internet outlets, my biggest problem is with the idea of “dismantling” the front of the building and mosaic entry way to be “rebuilt” and integrated with the new building. I have seen this before were once it comes time to “rebuild” suddenly there is a problem and it can’t be done for one reason or another so it simply does not happen. The sincerity of this plan is the real question. Do you trust this developer enough to take him at his word that he will make a serious effort to do this?
I don’t know this developer but based on statements made I have my doubts about his sincerity and commitment to saving the required part of this building as per the covenants associated with this properties development at the time he purchased it. He has made misleading statements about how and why he came to own this property as well as misleading statements about the building soundness. Finally the drawing of the proposed building which would integrate the facade of the old library with this new construction is simply butt ugly and it is hard to believe anyone would spend millions building anything so ugly.
In ending, I support the city acquiring this property and turning it into a Tourist center and city history museum because of its historic significance, its community significance and it huge potential for improving the city’s brand. These are the same justifications used for the city’s multi million dollar investment in the building presently housing the DuPage Children’s Museum so they should be good enough for our own Nichol’s Library building.
I really can’t see the tourist center / history museum idea. We already have Naper Settlement which is the city’s history hot spot and is supported by the city. As for a tourism center … it’s just a tad off the beaten path and I’m not sure what purpose that would serve … brochures and restrooms and such? Today’s tourism world is predominantly online …
Just thinking aloud here … maybe use it as event space. Or as a hipster coffee house since there seems to be no end to the popularity of those types of places.