Demolition Granite City, Illinois Illinois Metro East

More Demolition in Downtown Granite City

by Michael R. Allen

Last year, the building at 1310 Niedringhaus Avenue in downtown Granite City burned. The neighbor at 1308 Niedringhaus (at right above) suffered some damage, but nothing that compromised its structural integrity.

Here’s a look at those two buildings three years ago, seen at right below:
One can see that these buildings were part of an uninterrupted row of downtown buildings with storefront retail activity. Such blocks are few and far between in Granite City these days. Now there is one less, because the government of Granite City successfully pushed to have both the buildings at 1308 and 1310 Niedringhaus Avenue demolished. Today, the site is a gaping hole in the street wall.

Like many municipalities in the St. Louis area, Granite City lacks a local preservation ordinance that would establish a citizen review commission for demolitions — and the ability to seek federal grants for preservation planning. Such an ordinance would enable Granite City to become a Certified Local Government under federal rules, a status enjoyed by Belleville, Collinsville, Alton and Edwardsville. (Read more about Illinois’ Certified Local Government program here.) If Granite City had a preservation ordinance, the city might have a shot at stopping the steady spate of demolitions that have been eroding the downtown area in the past decade.

Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Illinois Mid-Century Modern Motels

Springfield’s State House Inn: Another Successful Mid-Century Motel Renovation

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph from the Historic Sites Commission of Springfield website.

The first motel in Springfield, Illinois was the State House Inn at 101 E. Adams Street in the heart of downtown. Built in 1961 and designed by Henry Newhouse, the State House Inn is a contemporary of St. Louis’ threatened DeVille Motor Hotel.

However, the State House Inn is celebrated by its city and has received the benefit of a historically-sensitive renovation. In 2003, the motel reopened after a three-year, $8 million renovation. Today, the motel’s guests enjoy lovely modern lodgings just a short walk from Springfield’s major attractions as well as the Amtrak station.

Could the DeVille be the beneficiary of a similar renovation? While not downtown, the DeVille is a short walk from some of the city’s attractions — the Cathedral, Forest Park — and near light rail that connects to our Greyhound/Amtrak station. The Central West End stays open later than downtown Springfield, too, with many restaurants and bars within a short walk of the motel. With the same applied imagination that the State House Inn received, the DeVille could be one of St. Louis’ coolest places to stay.


One Cool Garage

by Michael R. Allen

Walking around Grafton recently, I noticed this garage on First Street. Our Lady of the Waters, what a fine building! The walls are built entirely out of structural clay tile, with a lovely tapestry of mixed colors. The corners and edges around the doors and windows are even bull-nosed. I have little else to add save that one does not find clay tile buildings like this often in the St. Louis region. Yay!

Historic Boats Illinois National Historic Landmark Riverfront

Goldenrod Showboat Celebrates its Centennial

by Michael R. Allen

The day was beautiful, and our need for a trip away from the city strong. Looking for a destination, we settled on tracking down the Goldenrod Showboat on the Illinois River. After all, we are in the venerable entertainment vessel’s 100th year. Using directions from a friend sent last year after he stumbled upon it and Google Earth (which showed it a few miles from where it actually lies), we got a general idea of the location in Kampsville, Illinois and set out.

Of course, the Goldenrod now sits outside of its first Kampsville location. After not finding the boat on the town’s riverfront, we asked a couple walking down the road how to find it. The man knew where it was, gave directions and proceeded to offer the information that his aunt was a waitress and actress on the Goldenrod between 1945 and 1950. Even in this unlikely new home, the Goldenrod is part of a local’s family heritage — how ’bout that?

A few miles later, we spotted the Goldenrod moored to a barge on a section of overgrown riverfront. The boat was unmistakable, and the deterioration has not claimed much of its integrity. Everything is still there, down to the boat’s recent (and somewhat unattractive) paint scheme. The paint is peeling, the wood drying and in some places rotting. Yet the Goldenrod survives unharmed in its sleepy Illinois berth.

A few years ago, this outcome was far from likely. After its itinerant early years (more on those later), the show boat became a permanently-moored restaurant on the St. Louis riverfront. In 1990, the City of St. Charles, which had purchased the boat in 1988, moved it to the St. Charles riverfront. The restaurant closed in 2001, and in 2003 the city decided to sell the boat. The St. Charles City Council accpeted bids, and sold it to a company headed by John Schwarz. (The Council rejected Bob Cassilly’s bid to move it back to the St. Louis riverfront.) Schwarz moved the boat to Kampsville, after announcing plans to restore the vintage vessel.

However, in 2007, Randy Newingham and Shelia Prokuski, owners of the site where the boat was moored, sued Schwarz for unpaid mooring fees. In September 2007, Newingham threatened to sell all or part of the boat for scrap to cover his costs. One month later, a Calhoun County judge ordered an auction of the boat, and the court accepted Newingham and Prokuski’s lone $50,000 bid. However, by the end of the year the couple had reached and agreement to sell the Goldenrod back to John Schwarz. Schwarz moved the boat north. In 2008, however, Judge Richard Greenleaf declared that the proper court papers for the auction had not been filed, throwing the ownership in doubt. To date, the ownership has not been cleared.

Hence, the Goldenrod Showboat sits lonely on the side of Illinois Highway 100, and as summer sets in, disappears behind stands of grasses and the leaves of riverbank trees. The sturdy boat is crumbling, but not very rapidly. Asphalt roof paper provides cover for much of the deck area, and the boat is locked up tight. Hopefully, this is not how the Goldenrod will end its days, even if this sad state is how the boat will spend its centennial year.

The path from birth has been convoluted, but most of the Goldenrod’s days have been good ones. Pope Dock Company of Parkersburg, West Virginia built the boat in 1909 for businessman W.R. Markle. Originally, the boat was named Markle’s New Showboat. Built for entertainment, the boat would travel the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and stop at town where it would dock. Patrons would come aboard for a night of music, comedy and other live entertainment. According to most accounts, the boat was the last showboat built for the Mississippi and Ohio river circuits. At 200 feet long and 43 feet wide, the boat was one of the largest showboats ever built. The seating capacity was 1,400.

Markle lost the boat through foreclosure in 1913, and the next owner renamed the vessel the Goldenrod Showboat. In 1922, Captain Bill Menke purchased the boat and implemented a 12-month touring schedule. His tenure would be long and fruitful. Menke moored the boat at Aspinwall, Pennsylvania for two consecutive summers, 1930 and 1931. In summer 1937, Menke brought his show palace to St. Louis for repairs but ended up permanently mooring it here. According to “That Landmark on the River,” an article by Mary Duffe that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 10, 1968, the boat hosted stars like Red Skelton, Monte Blue, Kathy Nolan, Major Bowes and others during Menke’s tenure. Menke reported that he had to ask patrons in southern towns to leave their firearms at the riverbank.

In 1963, Pierson and Franz purchased the Goldenrod Showboat. A few small fires led to major renovation, including a new steel hull. On Christmas Eve 1967, the National Park Service listed the Goldenrod Showboat as a National Historic Landmark, the highest federal distinction for a historic property. The National Historic Landmark nomination includes a short history of the boat, as well as the fact that the original hull is intact inside of the steel barge that now serves as the hull.

The National Historic Landmark nomination may be skimpy by today’s standards of historic documentation, but the nomination’s assertion of the great cultural significance of the Goldenrod remains true. This was one of the last and most lavish of the great river show boats, and it may be the only survivor of that type. Its future is important not only to St. Louis, its later home, but to the history of the 15 states the Goldenrod is known to have regularly visited between 1909 and 1937. The centennial of the boat should be a spur toward preservation. If the current owners (whoever they may be legally) cannot figure out how to bring the boat back to life, let’s find the person who can.

Chicago Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered — And the Chicago Landmark Ordinance

by Michael R. Allen

Landmarks Illinois has released its ten most endangered places list for 2009; the list and information about each site is online here. There are no sites in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis, although a few southern Illinois sites are included.

Here’s the full list:

1. Arcade Building (Riverside)
2. Archer House (Marshall)
3. Aurora Masonic Temple (Aurora)
4. Chautauqua Auditorium (Shelbyville)
5. Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern Depot (Moline)
6. Lewis Pharmacy Interior (Canton)
7. Michael Reese Hospital Campus (Chicago)
8. Porthole Barns of Greene County
9. Prentice Women’s Hospital (Chicago)
10. Shawneetown Bank (Old Shawneetown)

A special eleventh spot is included for the Chicago Landmark Ordinance. On January 31, an appellate court ruled that the criteria for landmark designation under the ordinance was vague and sent the ordinance to trial court for review. The outcome of that review could nullify the ordinance, removing legal protection for 277 landmark sites and 51 historic districts designated under the powers of that ordinance.

Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Illinois Historic Sites Reopened Today

by Michael R. Allen

Scenes like these captured at Fort de Chartres this fall will return to Illinois’ closed historic sites. Today the sites, closed by former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (Delusional-Chicago), opened once again.

This is good news for the entire state of Illinois as well as St. Louis. Fort de Chartres, the Pierre Menard Home and the Vandalia Statehouse are within 100 miles of St. Louis. They bring tourism dollars into the wider regional economy.

Planning a celebration with a friend whose husband is returning to work at one of the sites, I was happy to hear that Saturday might be a tight fit because he’ll be back at work — on the weekend, with beautiful weather and plenty of visitors!

Historic Preservation Illinois

Celebrate: Illinois Historic Sites Reopening!

by Michael R. Allen

If you ever doubted the power of one person in elected office to mangle sensible public policy, the saga of former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was a sobering lesson. A more hopeful lesson comes from current Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who has gracefully built consensus to quickly reverse Blagojevich’s cuts to state government agencies.

Great news came yesterday when Quinn announced that Illinois’ 11 shuttered historic sites are reopening. Thirty-three laid-off workers have been recalled to duty on April 22.

According to the Associated Press:

The closures cost the state tourism revenue and Quinn said he’s not going to “squeeze a nickel and lose half dollars.”

Right on! Illinois’ return to sanity in state government is welcome.

Historic Preservation Illinois Metro East Missouri Legislature Public Policy

Illinois Legislation Would Enact Historic Tax Credit Modeled on Missouri’s

by Michael R. Allen

Rick Bonasch at STL Rising wrote a post today asking for more information on a proposed state historic rehabilitation tax credit in Illinois.

Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) filed HB 469 on February 4, Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) filed HB 586 on February 6 and Senator Dan Kotoski (D-Park Ridge) filed SB 1366 on February 10. The similar bills would enact a state historic rehabilitation tax credit modeled on Missouri’s tax credit. All bills have had a first reading and remain in committee.

While Missouri inexplicably debates the future of its model tax credit, other states are looking at copying ours. What a strange reversal of regional dynamics if Illinois had an uncapped historic rehab tax credit and Missouri did not. The tax credit would be a boon to Alton, Belleville, Granite City and other east side communities that are interested in downtown revitalization.

Historic Preservation Illinois

Quinn Wants to Reopen Closed Illinois Historic Sites

by Michael R. Allen

In an article in today’s Peoria Journal-Star, Illinois’ new Governor Pat Quinn (D) pledges to reopen the closed Illinois state parks and historic sites. Furthermore, he indicates that he understands why the closures ordered by ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) were foolish:

Nature-based and historic-based tourism are the fast-growing growing types of U.S. tourism, Quinn said. The dollars generated by tourism outweigh the cost of running the parks and historic sites, he said, adding that his administration somehow would find the money to reopen them.

“You squeeze a nickel and lose a half-dollar. That’s not smart government,” he said.

Quinn will reopen the closed sites “with dispatch.”

Historic Preservation Illinois

Illinois Hires 89 Prison Guards One Week After Closing Historic Sites

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE: The governor himself is now in jail!

If the administration of Illinois’ Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich is aiming to be the most confusing one in state history, it is doing well. Just one week after closing 12 historic sites and laying off 100 employees of those sites, the state has hired 89 prison guards for a prison transfer that may not take place. While the prison guard hiring had long been planned, the operation of the 12 state historic sites had been in the state budget as far back as 1913, when Illinois acquired Fort de Chartres. If Blagojevich seriously wanted to tighten the state’s fiscal belt, he could have deferred the guard hiring to save money until the Pontiac Prison transfer lawsuit is resolved.

In January, expect the state legislature to again find funding for the shuttered historic sites. Also expect the governor to continue to cling to the ludicrous assertion that the closures have helped balance the state budget. Meanwhile, 100 workers whose work skills are hard to place in Illinois face uncertain futures. The twelve sites face doubtful prospects of reopening. Many communities will lose tourism dollars, and many tourism-boosted businesses will face failure. Meanwhile, other states that fully invest in their historic sites will capture a healthy number of visitors and their spending dollars.

If Blagojevich thinks the future he’s setting into motion makes sense for Illinois, he has a lot of explaining to do.

The sites that closed on November 30 are the following:

  • Apple River Fort, Elizabeth
  • Black Hawk Site, Rock Island (Hauberg Indian Museum to be half-closed)
  • Bishop Hill Museum, Bishop Hill (Colony Church and Bjorklund Hotel)
  • Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia
  • Dana Thomas House, Springfield
  • Fort de Chartres, Prairie du Rocher
  • Fort Kaskaskia, Ellis Grove
  • Jubilee College, near Brimfield
  • Lincoln Log Cabin, near Charleston
  • Pierre Menard Home, Ellis Grove
  • Old Statehouse, Vandalia
  • Carl Sandburg Home, Galesburg