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Old Nichols’ story dates back to 1895, timeline continues after Naperville City Council grants landmark status


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 unique 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.

UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2019 / Speculation continues regarding the future of the space occupied by the historic “Old Nichols.” A Daily Herald story posted on this date titled “Restaurant announcement coming for Naperville’s old Nichols Library,” quotes a spokeswoman for the property owners who said restaurant concepts to occupy the old library are still under review. The $21 million, 4-story development that saves the north, west and south sides of Old NIchols Library will be called “Central Park Place.” According to the DH story, construction on the new portion is expected to begin this spring, weather permitting. Scroll down this post to May 7, 2018, to see the rendering of the project.

UPDATE, June 9, 2018 / During the recent Liquor Commission meeting on June 7, 2018, local residents Derek Krauss and Joe Rehbein submitted a spirit distillation concept (dated May 17, 2018) for consideration, recognizing “there is no local distillery that called Naperville home.”

Three sides of Old Nichols Library have been saved and the structure has been incorporated into the new development. As this photo from early June reflects, the limestone from a Naperville quarry glistens on this design by architect M.E. Bell in Richardsonian Romanesque style, built in 1897. Imagine highlighting the beautiful facade with uplighting to showcase a new business here.

Among possible locations being considered that could suit the new business venture is Old Nichols Library, but the size of Old Nichols could be too small for the concept. To see a concept of the distillery plan, check out the city’s June 7, 2018, Liquor Commission Meeting that includes a Power Point presentation as well as local distillery ordinances from other communities that currently have them in place.

UPDATE, May 24, 2018 / Naperville Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved Certificates of Appropriateness (COA) so the developer can continue plans for the landmark on the privately-owned property. 

A new slate roof for Old Nichols was suggested among rehabilitation needs. 

At the request of Deputy Director of Transportation, Engineering and Development Allison Laff, local historian Bryan Ogg researched the original roofing material.  “Photographic evidence and a hand-written note in the minutes of the Board of Directors of the Nichols Library minutes indicate that the original roof was terra cotta/clay tile.  I have no idea why the hand-written notes were added, other than to correct the type-written report of the committee. I have attached an article from Old House Journal which mentions the rise of clay tile roofs in America: https://www.oldhouseonline.com/articles/best-roofing-materials-old-houses and a manufactures’ catalog of said clay tile roofing material.  I am not proposing the original tile were made by Mound City tile works, merely showing an example of clay roofing material in the era of the Old Nichols Library:

Images of the library roof, 1898-1910, clearly show the terra cotta/clay ornaments/gable terminals are similar to the illustrations in the catalog pages.  Ogg suspects the current, red asphalt shingles were used to replace the red coloring of the original tile. 

“I strongly encourage the new roof for Old Nichols Library to appear more like the original red, clay tile if at all possible,” Ogg said, noting he found at least one source of new tile: http://www.tileroofs.com/new_clay_tile_roofing.php.”

With a projected price of $21 million, a new 4-story development that saves the north, west and south sides of Old NIchols Library will be called “Central Park Place.” From now on, the private property in the heart of downtown will be on the city’s tax rolls for the first time in history.

UPDATE, May 7, 2018 / A presentation for members of Save Old Nichols was given on May 7, 2018, in the conference of the Naperville Development Partnership. Other stakeholders and public officials also were given presentations in advance of the Historic Preservation Commission meeting slated for May 24, 2018.

UPDATE, April 25, 2018 / Landmark Illinois lists Old Nichols as one of the 13 ‘Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois’ for 2018. News conference takes place in the Stratton Building in Springfield.

UPDATE, April 9, 2018 / Old Nichols Schedule of Demolition Updates with Photos

UPDATE, April 7, 2018 / Exactly one year ago, news spread about Old Nichols’ sale for redevelopment

UPDATE, April 4, 2018 / William J. Novack, City of Naperville, Director of Transportation/Engineering/ Development, sent the following information regarding the schedule of demolition at 110 S. Washington Street:

Our Field Projects Manager met with the development team on site today and has provided the following weekly schedule as of today.  Please note that these schedules are always subject to change, but as of today below is what they propose for the coming weeks:

  1. This week:  Install fence and gates around the site
  2. Week of April 9:  Remove topsoil from site, install temporary construction drive along south property line and install temp electric service
  3. Weed of April 16:  Environmental work and abatement of the 1960’s addition
  4. Week of April 23:  Environmental work and abatement of the rest of the building
  5. Week of April 30:  Disconnect utilities (water, sewer and electric), commence with demolition of the 1960’s addition, placement of sheet pilings as demo progresses and infill of the lower level and first floor openings by masonry contractor
  6. Week of May 7:  Demolition of the 1960’s addition will continue; commencement of the demo of the 1930’s portion may start this week depending on progress
  7. Week of May 14 until sometime in May:  Demolition will continue until completed.

UPDATE, March 30, 2018 / After a couple days of numerous phone inquiries and many emails regarding the timeline for demo plans at the private property where Old Nichols stands, we visited the location at 110 S. Washington (pictured above) where stakes for fencing/gates and JULIE flags show that preparations to begin tearing down the 1962 addition are in the works. We also contacted the developer and the City regarding the demo schedule since it appears the church has moved out and into its new facility at the northwest corner of Mill Street and Bauer Road. We appreciate the prompt replies and look forward to posting the schedule when available.

“Dwight Avram is out of town this week, so a more definitive schedule will be developed next week.”
—Mike Elliott, AIA, Kluber Architects + Engineers

UPDATE, January 25, 2018 / The developers that purchased the original Nichols Library in March 2017 were granted permission unanimously by seven voting members of the city’s 9-member Historic Preservation Commission Thursday to take down the 1962 addition that doesn’t add to the historical value of the Landmark building that opened in 1898. HPC Chairman Kevin Peterson recused himself from the discussion and the vote. The City Council representative, currently filled by Councilman Becky Anderson, does not vote.

After a snow in 1908, the original Nichols Library is viewed from Central Park, obviously without the soon-to-be-demolished 1962 addition. (Photo courtesy Bryan Ogg)
The 1898 Sanborn Map shows the original footprint of Nichols Public Library. (Map image courtesy Bryan Ogg)

The HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness (COA) to tear down the 1962 addition to the original structure at 110 S. Washington St. A local landmark at the gateway to downtown Naperville for more than 120 years, Old Nichols was built with a $10,000 bequeath from philanthropist James Lawrence Nichols, a teacher, author and successful businessman who died at age 44 in 1895.

Above / After public testimony by several members of the Save Old Nichols organization and other residents interested in preservation, as well as board deliberation to clarify their votes to approve unanimously the COD request for Old Nichols, the full HPC with two non-voting student representatives went on to other business in City Council Chambers.

Public Notice at 110 S. Washington.

UPDATE, January 8, 2018 / To follow proper procedures of notification, a sign with a Public Notice is posted by the City’s Historic Preservation Commission regarding requests for Certificate of Appropriate (COA) to remove the 1962 addition to Old Nichols Library.

UPDATE, December 4, 2017 / Most of the Naperville City Council members were among more than 40 individuals who attended an open house on Monday, Dec. 4, hosted by the Save the Old Nichols Library group in the meeting rooms at the Naperville Municipal Center. Organized as a way to thank Naperville City Council members for approving the landmark designation, the two-hour event also included several informal proposals by two architects with other possibilities of what could go with the significant structure on the property.

UPDATE, November 5, 2017 / Rick Pearson’s Sunday Spin on WGN Radio features interview with Investor Jeff Brown and Developer Dwight Avram in a program titled, “What does the future hold for Naperville’s Old Nichols Library?”

UPDATE, October 17, 2017 / Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO, of Landmarks Illinois, responds to the Chicago Tribune with letter to the editor titled, Preservation a win for Naperville, not an overreach.” (To date, this letter to the editor featured online has not appeared in print.)

UPDATE, October 13, 2017 / The Editorial Board at the Chicago Tribune takes an online view of the Old Nichols landmark, “How Naperville trampled on Property Rights.” (The editorial that stirred up considerable conversation was published in print on October 16, 2017.)

UPDATE, Sept. 26, 2017 / Naperville Central High School student writer reports for Central Times: Naperville city council grants Old Nichols Library monument status after months of heated debate.

Landmark status for Old Nichols Library is granted by Naperville City Council

UPDATE, Sept. 20, 2017 / After thoughtful and educational deliberation all around on Sept. 19, 2017, 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 / During the Sept. 19 City Council meeting with standing room only, Ann Lord was among 40 speakers, pro and con, that addressed the Historic Preservation Commission recommendation to landmark Old Nichols.

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 marked its 119th year at 110 S. Washington St. on Fri., Sept. 22, 2017.

ICYMI: RELATED POST Click here for a little recent history. 

Timeline highlights intentions of J. L. Nichols’ gift 

Timeline in chronological order first posted Sept. 19, 2017…

August 18, 1895 / Death of James L. Nichols I at age 44. Brief Bio: The German immigrant born May 3, 1851, arrived in Naperville in 1876 where he was graduated from North-Western College (now North Central College) in 1880. More than a million copies of his Business Guide (first published in 1886) were sold. Nichols founded Naperville Lounge Company (became Kroehler Manufacturing Co.) on March 9, 1893. At home in Naperville as an entrepreneur, publisher, North Central College professor and philanthropist, Nichols’ will bequeathed $10,000 to the City of Naperville “to purchase a suitable lot within the corporate limits of the city and erecting thereon a suitable library building, said building to be used for a public, free reading room and library by the inhabitants of the city.”

April 12, 1897 / City Council agrees to the terms and conditions of J.L. Nichols will and codicils and agreed that the bequeathed money would be “used for the purposes specified [in the will] and to no other.”

July 20, 1897 / Naperville City Council agrees to purchase land from C. B. Clark, to be used for the new library building and as a gateway to Central Park (the site on Washington St. where the building now sits).

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

August 9, 1897 / City of Naperville purchases the land for Nichols Library from Carlos B. Clark.  Deed number 64844 includes this language, “The consideration for the Purchase of said premises was Paid from the Legacy bequeath to the grantee herein by said third clause of said last will and testament and the title to the premises above-described is held by the grantee here in named in trust for the uses and purposes specified in said third clause of said Last will and Testament, and the Title to the Premises above described is held by the grantee herein named in trust for the uses and Purposes specified in said third clause of said Last will and testament and subject to the conditions imposed therein by the first clause of the codicil thereto, and is expressly understood and agreed by and between the parties to this conveyance that, in case said Lot or the Building thereon or both Should be diverted to any other use and purpose than that Provided in said third clause of said Last will and Testament therein such case the said premises and all the buildings and improvements erected thereon shall revert to and become the Property of the heirs and the devisees of said James L. Nichols, deceased.”

September 22, 1898 / Nichols Library opens its doors in the heart of Naperville.

December 9, 1962 / A new $175,000 wing is added to the south of the original structure.

1977 / Nichols Library building is located within the National Register of Historic Places district, established for downtown Naperville.

March 11, 1986 / New Nichols Library opens at 200 W. Jefferson Ave.

(City and Naperville Park District use Old Nichols building for various programs from 1986 to 1996. In 1995, City Council discusses/promotes sale of property with restrictive covenants.)

March 14, 1996 / City of Naperville deeded the property to Truth Lutheran Church and placed covenants and restrictions that were to run with the land “for the benefit of the City of Naperville, its successors, assigns or agents.” With the placement of covenants and ownership by the church, the public at large was not concerned about future demolition.

The covenants state:

1)         That current and future owners of the property “shall retain, protect and maintain in its present condition in perpetuity the Washington Street facade of the original ‘Old Library Building,’ including the USGS bench mark in the northwest corner of the building in its present state.”

2)         That current and future owners of the property “shall further retain, protect and maintain in its present condition in perpetuity, the interior facade of the Washington Street entrance foyer of the original ‘Old Library Building.”

2013-2014 / Somewhere within this time frame, the developer says he began talking/meeting with City staff as well as the leadership of the Truth Lutheran Church to put together a deal to build them a new church at a new location so he could redevelop the property at 110 S. Washington. (Residents/preservationists at-large were unaware of the interests.)

The attractive northwest corner of the structure would add interesting stature to any design that keeps Old Nichols at that location.

March 1, 2017 / With existing restrictive covenants (See above), Truth Lutheran sells the property to Great Central Properties III, LLC.

April 7, 2017 / News about the sale of Old Nichols creates a buzz among local business leaders during lunchtime announcement with public officials about Patel Brothers’ revitalizing the vacant Menard’s property at Ogden and Jefferson to open a grocery and more.

May 10, 2017 & May 12, 2017 / Published newspaper stories attract attention about new developments for Old Nichols and its property.

May 13, 2017 / Save Old Nichols Library Petition was published online by preservation advocate Barbara Hower.

May 16, 2017 / Developer/Great Central Properties hosts Community Open House at Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, 55 S. Main Street, the same evening as a regularly-scheduled City Council Meeting at 7PM, Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle Street.

One of two architect’s renderings that were presented during the developer’s open house is posted here. A not-to-scale flat version of Old Nichols is represented on the 80,000 sq. ft. 4-story structure with underground parking. PN was told the two renderings at the open house were among 11 designs created for the location in “the spirit of the covenants.”
A second architect’s rendering shows an abbreviated image of Old Nichols in the center of the development, though the developer says he does not intend to demolish the significant structure. Please compare to the rendering above and photos of the historic building.

June 5, 2017 / Barbara Hower and Charlie Wilkins submit application for Landmark designation to go before Historic Preservation Commission at earliest available time.

June 23, 2017 / Save Old Nichols Group and Landmarks Illinois coordinate Limited Condition Assessment on with members of the Association of Preservation Technology to evaluate the current condition of the building’s exterior envelope.

August 2, 2017 / Public hearing is set before Planning and Zoning Commission to consider variance requests from developer. PZC votes to approve developer’s request to continue on Sept. 6, 2017.

August 8, 2017 / Final report submitted by the Association of Preservation Technology with evaluation of the current condition of the building. “Generally, the Old Nichols Library Building is in good to serviceable condition. Isolated repairs and continued maintenance are recommended to limit water infiltration and associated minor deterioration.” Removal and replacement of three units of windows as well as the roof are recommended as top priorities. (Full report is available.)

August 13, 2017 / Save Old Nichols group hosts Community Open House at Nichols Library.  Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, City Council members, a Park District Commissioner, City Officials, developer’s representatives and nearly 100 interested residents attend.

Historic Preservation Commission voted in favor of recommending Landmark designation.

August 22, 2017 / Landmark hearing with Historic Preservation Commission. Request meets HPC criteria to designate the property located at 110 S. Washington Street (the original Nichols Library built in 1898) as a landmark. Recommendation advances to City Council.

August 31, 2017 / City Manager’s Memorandum Aug. 31, 2017, the attorney for the developer of 110 S. Washington requested on Aug. 25, 2017, that their landmark discussion be continued from the Sept. 5 to Sept. 19, 2017 City Council meeting; and additionally that their Planning and Zoning Commission case be continued from Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, 2017.  The developer is seeking additional time to secure co-counsel and to prepare.

September 5, 2017 / Developer’s case regarding landmark discussion is continued until Sept. 19, 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. The sign has been updated to reflect the City Council meeting at 7PM Tues., Sept. 19.

September 6, 2017 / Developer’s case with request for variance before Planning and Zoning Commission is continued until Oct. 4, 2017.

September 13, 2017 / According to the City Council Agenda Memorandum, the developer requests City Council’s Landmark hearing scheduled for September 19 to be rescheduled until November 7, 2017.

September 14, 2017 / Save Old Nichols grassroots organization is notified that its application for nonprofit status has been received by the State of Illinois and sent to the IRS to go through the approval process to become a 501 (c) 3 foundation.

September 17, 2017 / Group not related to “Save Old Nichols” runs full page ad promoting Nichols Place redevelopment as preservation.

September 18, 2017 / “Save Old Nichols” grassroots organization has attracted more than 1,600 signatures (online and printed petitions) with many comments from residents and individuals with connections to Naperville.

September 19, 2017 / The public is invited to attend the Naperville City Council Meeting at 7PM Tues., September 19, 2017.

After the Consent Agenda and Public Hearings, the City of Naperville Meeting Agenda for City Council on September 19, 2017, starts with… 

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.

Landmark status for Old Nichols Library is granted by Naperville City Council.

Link to City Council Agenda with many items that welcome public comments this week. 

Sources: Newspaper Stories, City Council, PZC, HPC Agendas & Meetings, Naperville Archives, J.L. Nichols Will, Deed, etc.

PN’s website is chock full of links to Old Nichols stories, opinions and photos. Click here to see a long list.

Pay attention & participate

We the people are truly blessed to live in a community where residents care, engage in civil discourse and debate public issues that they hold dear and value as significant.

We are also mindful that editorial boards present opinions. Instead of hard facts representing both sides, editorials sometimes are based only on the information that supports the opinion of the editorial board. Other times editorials are based on emotion. It’s the very nature of an editorial opinion to have emotion. Furthermore, many folks come into the discussion late without taking time to know the entire timeline of facts before they create their opinions. And so it goes.

When it comes to important issues before City Council meetings in the future, consider signing up to comment, present solutions and remember the words of Mayor Steve Chirico regarding decorum at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, “No cheers or jeers. No applause.”

—PN, Stephanie Penick

RELATED POSTS / Greetings to PN regarding Old Nichols since Sept. 1, 2017…Find letters from Peggy Frank, Bill Anderson, Ron Keller, Beverly and Tom George, Bill Simon, Alva Jean Tannery-Chastain, Charles E. “Doc” Geitner, Jane Burke and more.

“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.