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Discussions continue over fate of historic West Chicago home

Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 9:40 a.m. CDT

WEST CHICAGO – How the removal of the Joel Wiant House in West Chicago will affect the city's historic district is at the heart of the Historical Preservation Commission's decision whether to approve city efforts to demolish the home.

The city appealed a previous decision by the commission to deny its request for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the Wiant House, leading to additional meetings about the home's future. A second decision by the commission is expected to be made July 3.

"As we discussed previously, it would impact the rhythm, the historic fabric and in general, the integrity of our downtown," commission Chair Janet Dayton Hale said.

The fate of the Wiant House ultimately sits in the hands of the West Chicago City Council, however, as that body has the final say in whether the city demolishes the house.

Commissioners met June 25 to discuss what had been presented to them at a public hearing June 4 about the nearly 150-year-old building, located at 151 W. Washington St. in the Turner Junction Historic District.

Although experts called by city staff during the hearing found restoration of the Wiant House would not be economically viable, they also agreed the home is structurally sound, the same finding as an architect hired by the commission.

During discussions June 25, commissioners addressed the unique architectural and historical characteristics of the Wiant House.

The house was placed on Landmark Illinois’ 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2013. It also is the last remaining structure built in the Second Empire style in DuPage County.

Commissioners expressed concerns regarding the lack of a concrete plan for the land surrounding the Wiant House and how the historic building could play a role in developing the area, saying it's premature to pursue demolition in this case.

"Once demolished, that building never can be put back," Commissioner Cheryl Waterman said. "And if you have no plan firmly established, what a shame if it's demolished, and then you say, 'Oh, this could have been something else.'"

Members of the public who attended the June 25 meeting agreed a different route should be taken with the property.

"We will all come and go, but the built environment is your legacy to the future and is worth protecting," said LuAnn Bombard of Batavia, who retired in January after serving as the director of cultural services at the West Chicago City Museum for 26 years. "It is truly priceless."

Currently, the city has one potential developer interested in the property that responded to staff's request for bids, Town Builder Studios of Riverside.

However, if negotiations fall through, David Sabathne of the West Chicago Community Center has said center officials would be willing to undertake purchasing and restoring the Wiant House property.

The Historical Preservation Commission will meet at 7 p.m. July 3 at West Chicago City Hall, 475 Main St., to vote whether to grant the city a Certificate of Appropriateness for the demolition of the Wiant House.

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