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A very recent history of Old Nichols Library leads to City Council Sept. 19, 2017


Above / Thanks for getting to know about the covenants that protect Old Nichols Library. Visit the location at 110 S. Washington as the sun begins to set, illuminating the stature of the significant structure at the gateway to our charming downtown.

UPDATE, Feb. 15, 2022 / Late in the afternoon on every sunny day, the historic Old Nichols Library along Washington Street in downtown Naperville glistens to showcase its relevance to the culture, architecture and fond memories of the community. This summer, the restored site expects to have a new tenant when owners of the Gia Mia Italian restaurant chain open their doors.

As another note of history, back in December when we heard this arrangement was in the works, Purdue was Number One in NCAA men’s basketball ranking for the first time ever. Today Purdue is ranked Number Five. The Boilermakers play Northwestern in Evanston at 8PM, Feb. 16, 2022. Let us add, “Boiler Up!”

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Together, we are people saving places for people.

UPDATE, Feb. 14, 2019 / This week folks who subscribe to the monthly magazine for “Landmarks Illinois” received the latest edition. The back side of the printed publication that includes the address label is graced with a photo of Old Nichols, a reminder that “Together, we are people saving places.”

Anyone who passes the historic centerpiece in downtown Naperville, the local landmark that represents the vibrant culture of this community, will notice the fine work that’s being accomplished by the developer to restore it to its original splendor, unique beauty that is illuminated every evening when the sun sets.

Thanks to the Naperville City Council for saving the structure that stands for James L. Nichols, the innovative and determined man with a generous heart who dreamed of the library (and so much more) back in his day in the 18th century.

Original Post, Sept. 19, 2017 / As noted in the June issue of Positively Naperville, back on April 7, 2017, business leaders gathered with the media when the City of Naperville announced that Patel Brothers, a nationally-known Indian grocery chain, will be re-developing the 15-years-vacant property at 1568 Ogden Ave. and Jefferson Ave. In addition to a 39,000-square foot grocery store specializing in ingredients and cuisine of India and southeast Asia, the remainder of the total 88,000 square foot property will be converted into a new shopping plaza with multiple retailers, including numerous dining and shopping options. The announcement received much applause.

Certainly folks who travel past the piece of property welcome that progress is taking shape finally at that location that has seen much better days. Revitalization with a new purpose for the building that will create jobs and tax revenue for the City is good news.

Old Nichols property is purchased for new development

While facing the old Menard’s in the parking lot that day, we also learned the old Nichols Library property had been purchased (March 2017) with a proposal for redevelopment. Though all the details were not known that afternoon, tearing down the significant structure was rumored as part of the plan to build a substantial 4-story building the would change the face of the gateway to downtown.

We found it hard to believe that during the recent plan and zoning commission and city council process to approve the Truth Lutheran Church building at Bauer and Mill streets that we’d failed to connect the dots. A developer had negotiated a land swap and a bill of sale for a piece of property that many folks in the downtown community considered to be protected by historic and restrictive covenants.

Fast forward to the City Council Meeting scheduled for 7PM Sept. 19

Quite frankly, we’d be the most happy to see the property on the City’s tax rolls. What’s disappointing in our view is the high scope of the proposed 80,000 sq. ft. project that apparently arrived after several years of negotiations without engagement from the neighborhood and this generous active community.

Another disappointment is that the developer was unavailable to meet and listen in May, June, July or August to discuss adaptive possibilities for his property that could connect to the community and “Save Old Nichols.” September was a little too late.

As originally presented during an open house in May, the redevelopment will demolish the existing historic structure set back along the entrance to downtown adjacent to Central Park, a site with storied significance that dates back to 1895, way before the growth and popularity of downtown Naperville.

Furthermore, the historic building that the City of Naperville sold to Truth Lutheran Church in 1995 is protected by restrictive covenants— or so residents thought.

And ever since May when the press began to tell the story, folks have wondered why conditions like restrictive covenants and variances were not addressed before purchase of the property and presentation of plans.

Restrictive covenants 

According to the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, covenant is defined as “A contract formed between two or more parties that is sealed with solemn vows.”

The Dictionary of American Politics lists a covenant as “A solemn contract between two or more parties.”

The entry in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language states that a covenant is a noun, “An agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified. 2) Law, an incidental clause to such an agreement. 3) Law, a formal agreement of legal validity, especially one under seal.”

The term “spirit of the covenant” could not be found in any listing of definitions or search online.

For more than 20 years, while Old Nichols was owned by Truth Lutheran Church, local residents attracted by local charm and historic buildings had no reason to think the significant structure was threatened by the wrecking ball.

Plain and simple, residents who appreciate the charm and character that Old Nichols represents always thought it was protected by its restrictive covenants.

“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)

As this story is written, this city is on the threshold to determine if Old Nichols needs to be designated with an historic landmark in order to be saved.

The past five months have presented a preponderance of opportunities to sign an online petition started by Naperville native and preservationist Barbara Hower that includes priceless prose that people may wish to ponder. Many of the comments will warm your heart about the culture, literacy, history and philanthropy that attract folks to this vibrant community. Hower and Charlie Wilkins wrote the landmark application submitted in early June.

In our view, we hope at the very least the west and north sides of Old Nichols will remain set back exactly where they are today, standing for the stature of the structure and the innovative man who dreamed of the library back in his day.

Above / Late in the afternoon on Sept. 16, 2017, Old Nichols glistens as the trees around it begin to show signs of the changing season. On Fri., Sept. 22, 2017, Old Nichols will celebrate its 119th year of prominence at the gateway to downtown Naperville.

Update, Sept. 20, 2017 / City Council Meeting, Tuesday Night / To accommodate 40 speakers, pro and con, signed up to address the 9-member City Council, Mayor Steve Chirico moved the agenda item featuring the Historic Preservation Commission recommendation to landmark Old Nichols to the beginning of the meeting. Following Council Rules, the mayor presented several options regarding public comments for the agenda item, which usually allows three minutes per speaker with a limit of 30 minutes per agenda item. Councilman Kevin Coyne wanted to hear every speaker for up to three minutes— and so it was moved for two hours of public comments.

After thoughtful and educational deliberation all around, the Naperville City Council voted 6-3 to designate Old Nichols Library as a local landmark, against the wishes of the owner and developers of the property who announced in opening remarks that they were pulling their petition for development approval previously submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Above / Landmark petitioner Charlie Wilkins addressed City Council before a standing-room-only audience in City Council Chambers on Tues., Sept 19. (PN photo added to post on Sept. 20)

From left to right on the dais, Council members John Krummen, Becky Anderson, Rebecca Boyd-Obarski, Judy Brodhead, Paul Hinterlong and Patty Gustin supported the landmark designation, an identification that means any exterior changes to the architecturally significant structure will require a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the Naperville Historic Preservation Commission.

Old Nichols Library will mark its 119th year at 110 S. Washington St. this Fri., Sept. 22.

ICYMI… A bunch of PN commentary aims to inform how we watched…

May 2017

PN Post May 10 / Community open house presents proposed concepts old nichols library redevelopment

PN Post May 16 / Local Notes for Meetings

PN Post May 17 / Nichols Place Proposal with update

Spectators lined the block during the 2017 Memorial Day Parade with gratitude, much the way it’s reported that librarians in the Nichols Library communicated with local military serving overseas during World War II.

June 2017

PN Post June 6 / What do vintage downtown buildings say to you?

PN Post June 9 / Naperville Heritage Society Statement 

One of two architect’s renderings presented for public viewing that features Old Nichols at the north end of the development. Note below another rendering with a different facade in the center of one of the proposals. Note the red outline below, too.

July 2017

PN Post July 9 / Carillon Conundrum

PN Post July 9 / Greetings to PN, Part I

PN Post July 11 / Greetings to PN, Part II

PN Post July 28 / What does Old Nichols say to you?

The red outline on the rendering at right shows Old Nichols to scale on the proposed new development.

August 2017

PN Post Aug. 6 / Greetings to PN

PN Post Aug. 7 / August Editor’s Notes

PN Post Aug. 7 / Can Old Nichols be saved? Should it?

PN Post Aug. 7 / How long will significant structures stand?

PN Post Aug. 7 / Curious Curator

PN Post Aug. 15 / Save Old Nichols

PN Post Aug. 23 with updates regarding Landmark designation recommendation

As viewed from the path that leads to Central Park, the northwest corner of Old Nichols looks to be in pretty good condition for 119 years old.

PN Post Aug. 30 / September Editor’s Notes

PN Post Aug. 31 / September Briefs

September 2017

PN Post Sept. 1 / Greetings to PN with letters from Peggy Frank, Bill Anderson, Ron Keller and more…

PN Post Sept. 5 / Preservation creates opportunities to connect and adapt

PN Posts / Curious Curator (Most recent columns address Old Nichols)

PN Post Sept. 18 / Old Nichols story dates back to 1895, continues before Naperville City Council on Sept. 19

And the rest is history.

Last Updated, Feb. 14, 2019

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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.


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