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West Chicago

West Chicago mayor hopes city will find use for historic Wiant House

Local preservation activist Frank Fokta stands in front of the historic Joel Wiant House.
Local preservation activist Frank Fokta stands in front of the historic Joel Wiant House.

WEST CHICAGO – As the process continues to determine the fate of the historic Joel Wiant House in West Chicago, the City Council’s development committee will meet Aug. 12 to discuss options for the property.

A request for demolition of the house was denied by the city’s Historical Preservation Commission July 3, leading staff to formally ask the City Council to appeal that decision, said John Said, director of community development.

The request for demolition first came in response to a directive from the city council in fall 2011 to staff to pursue demolition if a developer for the property could not be found. Since then, the council has experienced turnover and now includes five new aldermen.

Although the city is in discussions with Town Builder Studios of Riverside, no
plans for development of the property have been determined.

The 144-year-old Wiant House is at 151 W. Washington St. in the Turner Junction Historic District. It sits within a 14-acre parcel of land that has been identified by the city for development. In the past, a new municipal campus had been discussed as a possible use for that land.

The house consistently has been included as part of potential plans for those 14 acres, Mayor Ruben Pineda said.

“If the council’s intent was to demolish that building, it would have been [demolished] already,” Pineda said.

The mayor said he wants to see something work out with a developer, because, as a longtime resident himself, he appreciates the city’s historical character and doesn’t want the home to be demolished.

“We definitely don’t want the demolition to happen,” Pineda said. “Once history’s gone, it’s gone.”

These same sentiments have been shared by community members who attended public hearings held by the Historical Preservation Commission while the commission was considering the city’s request for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the home.

“The city has a very unique history in DuPage County,” local preservationist Frank Fokta previously told the West Chicago Press. “Having a tangible piece of that history in our town is something we should be proud of.”

During the hearings, experts called by city staff found restoration of the Wiant House would not be economically viable, but agreed with an architect hired by the commission that the home is structurally sound.

The house has been noted for its historical and architectural significance and 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.

However, to keep the Wiant House standing, the city is tasked with deciding what to do with the land, which has proven difficult since the city purchased the home for $260,000 in October 2011.

“It’s always been a part of our plan for development,” Pineda said. “What we need to do is find someone who will take that and make it new again, and we’re struggling with that.”

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