WEST CHICAGO – News filled headlines this year across the world, but one of the biggest stories to garner attention in West Chicago was the tale of the survival of the historic Joel Wiant House.
Built in 1869, the house at 151 W. Washington St. was home to retired businessman Joel Wiant and later, West Chicago’s first city attorney, John Leedle. It is the last remaining structure built in the Second Empire style in DuPage County.
Despite its history, the Wiant House faced demolition at the hands of the city until it was purchased late this year by the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center.
After the West Chicago City Council voted to buy the house for $260,000 in October 2011, staff were unable to find a developer to take on the project of restoring the home.
The city then requested a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historical Preservation Commission to demolish the building, but the commission denied the request twice – first in September 2012 and then again nearly a year later in July 2013.
When the second decision was appealed to the City Council, the community center officially came forward as a potential buyer. Representatives from the community center previously had expressed interest in the Wiant House, but didn’t want to get in the way of any private developers until it became clear they were the historic home’s only hope.
“Once you tear down history, it’s gone, and we never wanted to see that,” Mayor Ruben Pineda previously told West Chicago Suburban Life. “We just had to be fiscally responsible, and financially, it wasn’t something that the city wanted to venture into. It was just too expensive, so I’m glad that they stepped up.”
The mayor signed an agreement Dec. 2 to sell the house to the community center, which is charged with making the necessary repairs to bring the exterior of the Wiant House into compliance with City Code.
Areas of focus include repairing the roof, replacing windows, and demolishing exterior stairs and decks that were not part of the original structure. Because the 144-year-old Wiant House is located in the Turner Junction Historic District, any exterior work will require approval from the Historical Preservation Commission.
The agreement provides an end date for City Code work of July 31, 2014, but extensions may be made if necessary.
The community center is in the process of finalizing paperwork and financials to close on the sale, which is expected in the coming weeks, center President David Sabathne said.
The center also is phasing the necessary work, he said. The first phase will likely include most of what is necessary to bring the structure up to City Code standards.
“Compliance is the main issue,” Sabathne said. “That’s what the city cares about and what we care about.”
While the exact project cost is not yet finalized, it is expected to total about $350,000 to $400,000.
Sabathne hopes to present a project overview and request approval for phase one of the work at the first Historical Preservation Commission meeting of the new year, he said.
Work should begin within the next four to five weeks, with phase one completion projected for May, Sabathne said. Masonry work, which requires warmer weather, would then begin.
In the meantime, Sabathne said people continue to stop by the community center to share information and memories of the Wiant House.
“It’s made us become even more committed,” he said.
Wiant House Timeline
1869: Joel Wiant builds house
1895, 1900: Wiant and his wife die
1901 to 1910: City attorney John Leedle moves into Wiant House at unknown date
1960: Leedle dies
2011: House goes into foreclosure after passing through many hands during past 50 years
October 2011: West Chicago buys Wiant House for $260,000 with hopes of finding developer to restore home
August 2012: City requests Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish house when developer can't be found
September 2012: Historical Preservation Commission denies request; city appeals decision
Dec. 4, 2012: Original date of public hearing on appeal; extended to June 4, 2013
June 4: Public hearing features expert testimony on cost of restoring home; community center expresses interest in home at hearing
July 3: Commission denies request for demolition; city appeals decision to City Council
Aug. 12: Development Committee tables demolition request; community center officially steps up as buyer
Sept. 19: Development Committee recommends approval of proposed agreement between city and center
Oct. 7: City Council authorizes mayor to enter into agreement
Nov. 11: Revised agreement comes before Development Committee, which recommends approval
Dec. 2: Agreement passes City Council; mayor and community center sign it
Sources: Suburban Life Media reports, www.wianthouse.org