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Greetings to PN – Old Nichols / Vol. 17, No. 1 / Sept. 2017


Above / This month Old Nichols Library will be 119 years old! Old Nichols opened on September 22, 1898, when Naperville had 2,200 residents. The Naperville Woman’s Club donated 500 books, and residents donated 200 more. The rest of this continuing story is a rich history that represents the importance this community places on literacy, education, culture and children.

What do those signs mean in front of Old Nichols, located at 110 S. Washington?

Posted Sept. 1, 2017 / On Tues., Sept. 19, 2017, the Naperville City Council will consider a recommendation from the Historic Preservation Commission to landmark the significant structure in downtown Naperville. Then on Oct. 4, 2017, the Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet to consider a proposed development that could demolish plans for preservation.

To PN / Not all Historic Buildings are Worth Preserving – But Some Are

The old Nichols library on S. Washington Street, is definitely one that should be preserved. The integrity of the historical architecture of this building remains intact creating a significant contribution to our town’s past and present landscape. It would be an irretrievable loss should it not be part of our future.

Towns across the country, including Naperville itself, have successfully adapted and/or added on to historical buildings for contemporary usage while retaining the original facade intact. This marriage provides for retention of individual identities for each town. Losing that built environment starts to erode the fabric of a community until they all look the same with no unique distinctions.

I strongly urge today’s City Council to respect the covenant that was placed on the old Nichols library by its predecessors in order to continue to honor their guidance and wisdom in preserving an important building identifying Naperville’s downtown and community center. This building embodies so much of the values inherent in our town from its early foundations to its current vitality and well being. Creative development on the east side of Washington Street incorporating historical structures and green space can prove to be an attraction enticing residents and out of town visitors to explore whatever adjoins these spaces.

—Peggy Frank, Naperville, Sept. 17, 2017

The Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is an official notice of approval issued by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). In this case, the HPC has recommended landmark approval.

UPDATED, Sept. 16, 2017 / Since the announcement of the proposed request to table the landmark vote Tues., Sept. 19, until Tues., Nov. 7, we’ve been receiving copies of letters via email that are longer than the brief remarks that appear on social media. We will continue to post comments, pro and con, on this page that offer timely solutions.

UPDATED, Sept. 14, 2017 / Subsequently, the new attorney for the developer has requested changes to those dates and again wants more time. According to the Naperville City Council Agenda that appeared online on Sept. 13, 2017, “L. ORDINANCES AND RESOLUTIONS: Consider the Recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission to Designate the Old Nichols Library located at 110 S. Washington Street as a Landmark in Accordance with Section 6-11-3 (Designation of Landmarks) of the Naperville Municipal Code – HPC 17-3045 and Consider the Owner’s Request to Table the Matter to November 7, 2017.”

Since May 2017, an online petition campaign created by Naperville resident Barbara Hower to Save Old Nichols has attracted nearly 1,400 comments from individuals who support following the restrictive covenants that came with the sale of the building to the developer, also with the aim to save the historic building with landmark designation in its place at 110 S. Washington.

Naperville City Council meets at 7PM, Tues., Sept. 19 / Click here for agenda.

The Naperville City Council may choose to grant or deny the continuance request at their meeting Tues., Sept. 19, in Council Chambers located at 400 S. Eagle St. The public is welcome to attend. The meeting begins at 7PM.

This ‘Greetings to PN’ page will be updated throughout September 2017

The most recent submissions to Positively Naperville are posted first. Readers might like “to click here to consider “The Top Ten Myths About Historic Preservation” by Ken Bernstein, Director of Preservation Issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy. 

Thanks for reading. Thanks also for your comments and Greetings to PN.

To PN (Copy of Letter to Naperville City Council) / Good morning, Mayor Chirico, and Council Members Anderson, Obarski, Brodhead, Coyne, Gustin, Hinterlong, Krummen, and White, 

The Old Nichols Library at 110 S. Washington St. in downtown Naperville, Illinois.

My husband Tom and I moved to Naperville in January of 1980, and we’ve lived in the same home in Saybrook ever since. We’ve seen this town grow from a population of around 39,000 to just less than 150K today. I remember when my Dad came up from Atlanta to visit the summer of our sesquicentennial, and we took him to the Settlement, out to dinner at Washington Square, and to enjoy a summer concert in Central Park. These were and (most) still are a part of the character that is Naperville and that distinguishes it from other towns.

Tom and I have been following the campaign to Save Old Nichols, and we strongly support that group. On August 22, we attended the meeting where the Historic Foundation landmarked the old library, and I hope you as a body of elected officials will do the same and stop the project planned for its location when you meet on Sept. 19. I realize old buildings are costly to maintain and update and to find new uses for. However they are the links to a city’s history, and they form a city’s underlying bones and defining character.

Tom and I would support all efforts to pass a referendum to restore and find new purpose for Old Nichols Library. We sincerely hope you see the wisdom in that and do not approve its removal in the interest of adding a newer, bigger, modern, shiny commercial property. We believe Naperville has enough of those, and not all are filled.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

—Beverly and Tom George, Naperville

To PN (Copy of Letter to Naperville City Council) / Dear Council Member:

The southwest corner of Old Nichols looks to be in pretty good condition for 119 years old.

I urge you to vote in favor of saving Old Nichols Library. As we approach next week’s Council meeting, you’ll want to take a look at the attached calculation that supports the landmark designation.  This calculation is based on the information provided by the owner’s counsel.

The ordinance uses the cost in a ratio with the assessed value:


1.4.1. If the owner is opposed to the designation due to the physical condition of the improvement, the owner may submit evidence to show that the improvement has deteriorated and/or is subject to one or more adverse conditions such that the cost to restore or repair the improvement to a condition that complies with the standards for issuance of an occupancy permit under the provision of Title 5 would meet or exceed the assessed valuation of the property and improvement as shown on the most recent tax bill multiplied by one hundred fifty percent (150%).

Upon written request of the owner, the Zoning Administrator may grant an extension of the thirty (30) day time limit to submit a written response for up to any additional thirty (30) days.

Some key points that show that the owner’s data supports landmark designation:
  • There is considerable debate about the cost for rehabilitation of the Old Nichols. The report by the Association of Preservation Technology, who are experts at historic preservation, documents that the building is in pretty good condition (“good to serviceable” to quote their report).
  • The owner’s paints the opposite picture, saying that the building is at “end of life” (hard to imagine, when anyone can see it looks pretty darn good!).  The owner’s architect’s cost, on the other hand, is based on conservatively replacing many components of the building, leading to a very high cost..
  • Considering both estimates, the cost for rehabilitation ranges from $0.5M to 2.25M
  • The ordinance states that the ratio of the cost to assessed value is to be evaluated.  We know that there is no assessed value.
  • The acting chair of the HPC noted that the value of something is what the market is willing to pay.  The owner’s counsel states that the owner paid $5M for the property, emphasizing “that’s the truth!” The owner’s counsel also stated that the assessed value is 1/3 of the market value.  That would put the assessed value at $1.7M.
  • Per the ordinance, 150% of the assessed value would be $2.5M.  The range of estimates is under this 150% threshold.
  • If additional steps are taken, the owner could qualify to use the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit of 20% of the rehabilitation cost. This would further lower the ratio below the 150%.
In conclusion, the cost for rehabilitation supports the landmark decision.

—Bill Simon, Naperville

Attached Calculation / Cost Criterion in Naperville Ordinances
Owner paid:  $5.0      Testimony by owner’s counsel “We did pay $5M; that’s the truth.”
Estimated “Assessed value”:  $1.7      Testimony by owner’s counsel: 1/3 of market value
Threshold:  $2.5      Ordinance 150% of assessed value

Estimates as presented
Association of Preservation Technology:   $0.5     Report
Owners Estimate:  $2.2     Testimony by owner

Estimates less 20% tax credit                              Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit*
Association of Preservation Technology:  $0.4
Owners Estimate:  $1.8

Conclusion: in all cases, the cost to the owner supports landmark designation
* Requires additional steps to qualify

To PN (Copy of Letter to Naperville City Council)To all concerned:

Limestone from a Naperville quarry glistens on Old Nichols, a creation by architect M.E. Bell in Richardsonian Romanesque style, built in 1897.

The developer has asked for the vote to be delayed until November. This threatens to splinter support that we have gained in City Council and to stifle our growing momentum. There is no reason to delay decision on landmark status!  This is the developer’s THIRD request for a delay!  

City Council Members, vote this coming Tuesday! No delay!

—A concerned citizen, Alva Jean Tannery-Chastain, Naperville

This is my reply from the Mayor:

Alva Jean,

Thank you for your email. Please keep in mind that the first delay was to give time for a study. The second delay was to allow the HPC to weigh in on landmark status before taking the development to the planning and zoning commission…that was a respectful courtesy. This delay is to allow time to work out detail of a compromise solution that saves and landmarks the building with the owner’s consent. I believe we have identified a path to a successful outcome, but it will require some time. I will vote to table this to allow all of the parties time to work it. Thank you again.

—Steve Chirico, Mayor, City of Naperville

The information contained in this email is my opinion and the statements made are not on behalf of the City of Naperville or the Naperville City Council.

Old Nichols stands prominently at the gateway to downtown to tell how a “German immigrant comes to Naperville as a young man, goes to college, does well and shares his fortune with his adopted hometown.”

To PN / About 20 years ago, as Naperville continued to add new residents every year by the thousands, I remember hearing some of those newcomers saying “That’s it – I should be the last one.” What they meant was they moved to Naperville because it was such a great town and they didn’t want it to change with more growth.

Well, now that most of that growth is done and we are close to 150,000 residents, you can see that change in every nook and cranny of our city.

The reason I am bringing up this very obvious fact is that some of the projects being proposed today are, in my very humble opinion, going to help accelerate the change that those people 20 years ago were worried about. Many newcomers cite the Riverwalk and Downtown area as some of the reasons they moved to Naperville. Downtown has just added a massive development at Water Street and conversations are being had on the fate of the 5th Avenue properties to the North. City Hall is contemplating the fate of old Nichol’s Library and the Millennium Carillon. The old Russell cleaners is being torn down to put up a new building.

Please understand – I am far from anti change. I have spent the better part of my professional career serving on committees and commissions that have helped foment much of the change in Downtown. I don’t think our downtown in the sixties and seventies was a whole lot to brag about. But even back then, our commercial district was about the money. That’s what commerce is all about, right? But when an area like downtown grows to become so popular, the money interests also grow, sometimes to crazy levels.

My reason for writing on this today is that with that incredible rise on the money side of downtown, I have fears that the sheer volume of cash will eventually overwhelm our history and heritage. There are very tangible reasons to save important pieces of our past. We all care deeply for something from our past, whether it’s a great aunt’s wedding band or the car you bought in high school and could never part with.

Old buildings and material possessions remind us of our predecessors, their passion, struggles and successes. Many of these buildings help represent our community – not just for yesterday – but today and tomorrow also.

In my opinion, Old Nichol’s Library is one of the most historically significant buildings in town. It tells Naperville’s story so well. A German immigrant comes to Naperville as a young man, goes to college, does well and shares his fortune with his adopted hometown. This same story has played out again and again in town and made us all the richer (in heart, not dollars) for it.

Do we need to landmark everything or put a historic overlay district on top of the town? No. I just would like everyone – new to town or old, local politician or developer, local businessman or corporate executive – to look at the things that have made our hometown so special and make a decision with one eye on the future–but keep the other on the past.

I think Naperville should save Old Nichol’s Library and preserve its historical value to our community.

—Bill Anderson, Oswald’s Pharmacy, Since 1875

To PN / I am impressed with your 16th anniversary edition of Positively Naperville. Continue the good work.
I was particularly impressed with columns by Bryan Ogg, Michael Albrow, Mike Barbour. and Joe McElroy.

The column by Mr. McElroy was of particular importance because of my past history as Chairman of The Historic Sites Commission for 15 years while I was teaching at NCHS.

I hope the City Council gives the old Nichols library landmark status. I volunteer once a week at The Muckenthaler Cultural Center here in Fullerton, Ca. This cultural center is a great part of Fullerton and is visited by large numbers of people from surrounding communities and by visitors from foreign countries. Having a presence in town as a cultural center identifies the city of Fullerton and makes it a more attractive location for people moving to Southern California.

I remember Nichols Library as an immediate attraction when I came to Naperville as a teacher at NCHS in 1963. I think it would be shameful for the building to be torn down or greatly changed in any way.

The article about Grant Wehrli and his efforts straighten out the State Pension System as very interesting.
I receive a pension from the Illinois State Teachers” Retirement System and am not eligible to receive Social Security although I had a number of summer jobs from which Social Security payments were deducted. My 40 years of teaching were very satisfying and the pension I receive is adequate.

There is much more that I could write, but I do hope that Nichols Library receives landmark status.

—Charles E. “Doc” Geitner, NCHS 1963-1997, Tutor for District 203 -1998-2008.

The north side of Old Nichols faces the walkway to Central Park where the Naperville Community Concert Center finds its home.

To PN / Those of us who are members of the silent majority sat back and did not say anything when the Nichols Library building was sold.  We should have.

Building a large store/office/apartment building will destroy the beautiful east side of Washington Street and the actual entrance to Central Park which is just to the North of the old library! All the access to the apartments, YMCA, the Woman’s Club and the bank are to the East, from the alley and bank parking lot.

Traffic is difficult now.  We don’t need more congestion in that area! From May to October Central Park is a very busy place used by the Park District, YMCA, Summer School and the Municipal Band.

During the regular year, there is extreme pressure on the area by the Young Naperville Singers who have well over 350 students weekly in that area. There is also the safety factor especially in the late Fall and Winter when children are being dropped off and picked up in the dark!

The Concert Center is in use most every day and evenings during the week and some weekends. There is no room for more cars in that area!

Let’s keep the little green space in downtown green and work with the developer to build on Ogden Ave, which needs new life!

—Ron Keller, Lifelong Naperville Resident

To Naperville City Council / Please vote for landmark status for the old Nichols Library. I am a vice president of ProQuest, a major supplier of electronic databases to libraries around the world. Previously, I founded and was CEO of a company that created software for large academic libraries, such as Yale and Princeton, to manage their resources.

I was born in Naperville and have lived here most of life, including for the last 20 years. My mother, Leona Ory Burke, was also born here in Naperville.

Old Nichols stands as a testament to entrepreneurship and business as well as a gateway to Central Park.

The Nichols library was a major influence in my life and a major contributor to my success. Nichols Library was both a place where I could study and a place where great librarians such as Matie Egermann, Katherine Finkbeiner, and Miriam Fry encouraged me to keep seeking knowledge. When I was in library school at Dominican University, Nichols Library continued to support me. Without the Nichols Library, and its wonderful staff, I could never have achieved the career success that I have.

But it’s not just the history of supporting learning that makes the old Nichols important. In my mind there are two other reasons why the Nichols Library needs to be preserved:

1. It is a testament to business and entrepreneurship. James Nichols was an early business success in Naperville. Without his example, Harold Moser, Harold White, Al Rubin and others would not have laid the foundations for what Naperville has become. With his bequest for Nichols Library, he inspired a spirit of business supporting community that has made Naperville what it is. And that is #2 “Best City to Live in America”. We need to preserve the origins of that business orientation and keep encouraging innovation in Naperville –it is a major reason Naperville is so great.

2. Nichols Library is a gateway to Central Park. Central Park is a huge contributor to Naperville’s culture. Demolishing the Nichols Library puts the Central Park in jeopardy. That’s not acceptable – Naperville is what it is– in part — because of all of the concerts in Central Park and the entrance to Central Park from the Nichols Library site.

Of course, part of your discussion as Council Members is how to utilize old Nichols Library. My idea would be to make it a museum of business in Naperville. Showcase James Nichols, Harold White and all of the other entrepreneurs that have made Naperville the economic success that supports our great culture and life style here. I would volunteer to help create such a place. But, first, please vote to preserve the place itself.

—Jane Burke

To PN regarding Joe McElroy’s story, “Preservation presents opportunities to connect and adapt” / Did not see in this article any mention about the mold and asbestos in this place, old Nichols Library, and the cost of removing it……………..how come??? We saw this when we saw the plan commission on Channel 17… old Nichols Library.

—Marilyn Pallot

PN Editor’s Note / Thanks for your interest and your inquiry. To date (Sept. 1, 2017), the developer has chosen not to be available for an interview with us. We’re still hoping. To our knowledge, no work has gone out for competitive bid and costs from the developer are still estimates.

Be sure to watch upcoming City Council on Sept. 19, 2017, as well as Planning & Zoning Commission on Oct. 4.

Asbestos was addressed during the Historic Preservation Commission on Mon., Aug. 22. Watch the archived video of the HPC meeting at naperville.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1104.

To Marilyn Pallot via PN / The author (Joe McElroy) probably didn’t mention the asbestos and mold because it is not an obstacle to landmarking.

The most important thing to remember about asbestos is that the developer will have to follow all the same requirements if he prevails and demolishes the building.

Think of it this way: OSHA and EPA would not allow him to blanket the surrounding downtown and his workers with asbestos fibers while tearing the building down. So, the asbestos has to be dealt with either way — it is cost-neutral to the decision. As for mold, addressing it would be like a basement renovation. The most important thing is to fix the downspouts so that all that rainwater is directed away from the foundation!

—Bill Simon, Naperville

To FBI “liked” the (Save Old Nichols) post, but it’s saddening. We all have things that we wish we had done differently. I sincerely hope City Council carefully considers the importance Nichols Library has had in the lives of Napervillians, as well as the goals of Mr. Nichols when he so generously gave to the city of Naperville and its citizens. He was farsighted, indeed–a quality many today would do well to incorporate in their lives.

—Marjie Berens

RELATED PN PostsPN Post July 9 / Greetings to PN, Part I

PN Post July 11 / Greetings to PN, Part II

PN Post Aug. 6 / Greetings to PN

PN Posts using search tool for “Save Old Nichols”

“A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent; and a city without old buildings is like a man without a memory.” —Graeme Shankland, British Architect (1917-1984)

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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.