Alton, Illinois Historic Preservation

Alton City Council Reverses Grand Theater Landmark Designation

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, the Alton City Council voted 6-1 to overturn the city landmark designation recently conferred by the Historical Commission upon the Grand Theater. The theater, at the corner of Third and Market streets, has been owned by businessman Ed McPike since 1990. There is one tenant in a basement storefront on Third Street. McPike opposed the landmark nomination prepared by citizen Bill McKenzie.

After the Historical Commission voted 4-2 to confer designation, McPike appealed. Under Alton’s preservation ordinance, that appeal went to the City Council, which was then allowed to consider new evidence. Apparently, given yesterday’s decision, the council also has the authority to not only consider new evidence but also to impose a new standard of review.

Many concerned citizens, including McKenzie and Alton Area Landmarks Association President Terry Sharp, spoke in favor of upholding the Historical Commission’s brave decision. I spoke to clarify several points, including how — based on my St. Louis experience — landmark designation does not preclude reasonable alteration or even, if justified, demolition. In fact, the Alton Historical Commission recently granted demolition for the city’s oldest house, the Mansion House, after a devastating fire. Preservationists thought that the Mansion House could be saved, but the Historical Commission did not. Landmark designation simply ensures that the decision to demolish a historic building receives deliberation; it does not compel preservation in every case.

Alderman Mike Velloff, the lone dissenter, made the point that the level of review brought by the designation was no more arduous than what the Council would put in place for anyone seeking an official redevelopment plan. McPike’s attorney Jim Sinclair had called the landmark status a “taking” of the property.

While the Council overturned the landmark designation, the strong advocacy campaign for the Grand Theater has drawn a lot of attention to the long-vacant building. Hopefully that will lead McPike or a future owner to consider preservation.

Alton, Illinois

Alton’s Grand Theater Gets Landmark Status

Last month we reported on the citizen effort to secure city landmark status for the Grand Theater on Alton.

Good news comes from Alton Area Landmarks Association President Terry Sharp:

The Historic Commission voted to give the Grand Theater local landmark status. The owner can appeal this decision to the city council. So far he has not taken action to do so. Having local landmark status is one step to save the exterior of the building.

A group of citizens is having meetings about saving the Grand Theater. Contact Bill McKenzie (463-0625) for more info.

Alton, Illinois

Alton Historic House Tour on Sunday

The Alton Area Landmarks Association announces:

2010 Fall Historic House Tour
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Noon until 5;00 p.m.
$12.00 / Person

Tickets are on sale now at the Alton Visitors Center at Piasa and Broadway Streets. Sunday tickets will also be sold outside at 4th and Henry Streets and at the Hart House, 524 Belle Street. If you have any questions, call Terry Sharp at 463-5761. Looks like it is going to be a beautiful day.

Alton, Illinois Theaters

Alton Considers Landmark Designation for the Grand Theater

by Michael R. Allen

Earlier this week, the Alton Historical Commission heard testimony on an application to designate the Grand Theater (1920) at 230 Market Street as a city landmark. This application is controversial because the application is opposed by the building’s owner — and because the status would create public review of demolition. City landmark designation is always the highest form of building protection. Bill McKenzie, head of a citizens group that wants to find a new use for the theater, made the application. Owner Ed McPike opposes the designation and thinks the building is unworthy. Beyond structural problems he admits have developed during his ownership, McPike assets that the theater — refaced in the 1930s — is not architecturally distinguished. McPike purchased the Grand to rehabilitate it but has given up his efforts.

The Commission has a month to make a decision. From an Alton Telegraph story by Linda Weller, “Panel to decide if old Grand Theatre is landmark”:

City ordinance allows 30 days for commissioners to make a decision, which can be appealed to the City Council. Commission Chairman Doug Bader said he does not know when the commission will convene for the vote.

At stake is that anyone wanting to renovate, add on to or demolish a city landmark must submit the plans to the city’s Building and Zoning Department. The commission would review the plans and must recommend that Alton issue a certificate of compliance before work can begin.

Alton, Illinois Metro East Neon

Good News From the Jacoby

Press Release from the Jacoby Arts Center in Alton, Illinois:

The Madison County Arts Council, through a generous grant from the Gateway Foundation, will begin renovation of the historic neon sign that graces the front of their building — the Jacoby Arts Center, located at 627 E. Broadway in Alton, Illinois.

“Re-lighting the 2-story Art Deco sign will provide a strong identity for the Arts Center, help reenergize downtown Alton and revive a historic icon,” said Kathryn Nahorski, Executive Director for the Arts Center. “We are honored to receive this grant from the Gateway Foundation — an organization that supports projects including the Great Rivers Biennial, the lighting of the Gateway Arch and Sculpture on Campus at SIUE.”

The building that housed Jacoby’s furniture store for nearly 100 years was donated by the Jacoby family to the Madison County Arts Council in 2004. In 2 years, the building has been transformed into a community arts center, housing a gallery, gift shop and education wing. The current project, construction of three new classrooms, is nearing completion. These new facilities will allow the Arts Council to provide a broad offering of visual arts classes and meeting space for community groups such as the writers’ guild.

The Madison County Arts Council was founded in 1981 as an umbrella organization serving Madison County Illinois and adjacent areas. The Jacoby Center is the largest and most prominent of the undertakings of the MCAC. Other programs include ARTEAST, Community Arts Access, Arts in the Park and Connect the Arts.

The Madison County Arts Council is grateful to the Gateway Foundation for their generous support.