Illinois Peoria Public Policy

Illinois Tries a Pilot Historic Rehab Tax Credit, for One Project

by Michael R. Allen

Although last year’s effort to pass an Illinois state historic rehabilitation tax credit did not pass the legislature, a very specific pilot program did pass and receive Governor Pat Quinn’s signature. Senate Bill 2534 created a one-time 25% tax credit against the income of the owners of the historic Pere Marquette Hotel in Peoria (1927). The $40 million rehabilitation project that the owners have started must follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Rehabilitation in order to receive credits.

Yesterday the Peoria Journal Star published the article “Preservationists watching hotel pilot project in Peoria”, a good analysis of the pilot program and the larger effort to pass a statewide tax credit. There are obvious questions. Is the tax credit “pilot” really a pilot if the legislature does not pass the statewide credit? Why choose one $40 million project in a larger city instead of several smaller projects totaling $40 million across the state? Did the owners of the hotel make political headway that other owners will never make?

The “pilot” project is a good one, but there are so many others across the state equally worthy of the state’s consideration. All will create jobs and generate local sales and income tax revenues. The legislature should pass a credit open to all. If Illinois cannot afford a 25% credit, the legislature should look at a different figure that the state can. Missouri’s tax credit program is the model used by Illinois legislatures that crafted last year’s bill. One of the reasons the tax credit is a model is because it is open to all who qualify and the application process is not subject to approval by or the influence of elected officials. Illinois’ first attempt to create a historic tax credit greatly underscores that fact.

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois Peoria

Concrete Block Flatiron in Peoria Gone

by Michael R. Allen

When I went to Peoria over the weekend, this building was gone. (This photograph dates to June 2005.) The commercial building stood on Martin Luther King Boulevard just east of Western Avenue, on the south side of the street. Several characteristics were remarkable:

– The building was built entirely of concrete block made to look like rusticated limestone.

– The building formed a flatiron shape even though it did not sit on a flatiron lot. The shape was necessitated instead by topography. Behind the building, the land dropped off so severely that the flatiron was about all that could be built on this site. as the raised sidewalk suggests, things aren’t so great on the other side.

I liked this building because it defied the odds. This site is not “buildable” by contemporary standards; it may not have been even back in the early twentieth century when the building was built. Yet someone wanted to develop this lot, probably spurred on by Peoria’s density. When a city has a strong downtown, people build anywhere they can get in and around that downtown. Even odd lots get built out. Contrast that with today’s American urban environments, where many developers won’t even build on lots 25 feet wide by 120 feet deep. Once, land was scarce and building space abundant — now the formula is inverted. It seems that along with abdundant building space went abundant civic pride. People who don’t value land and make the most of its scarcity don’t build — or steward — great cities.

No doubt the little concrete flatiron fell prey to our perverse size mentality. People probably considered it too small for commercial use, and lacking the “yard” needed for residential. The building went empty and then it was demolished. I’ll bet that the lot remains vacant forever.


Nutrena Feeds Elevator

by Michael R. Allen

I discover the Nutrena Feeds Elevator by coincidence. My friend Angela and I decide to take a trip to Peoria, Illinois in October 2003 to follow a lead that I have on the shuttered Kelly School. Upon arriving at the school, we discover that the school district is using the school for a haunted house, and we cannot find anyone who might be able to let us inside the empty school. We briefly investigate one of the few remaining buildings of a mostly-demolished, long-closed Pabst brewery. This building and its stinky “Chlorine Room” is of little interest to us, so we move on to pleasant driving through the streets of this city.

Peoria in autumn is quite lovely; its ecclectic brick buildings sprawl along the tree-lined banks of the Illinois River with grace. The compact layout of the city gives it a nearly perfect quaintness. This quaintness is reinforced by the vintage nineteenth and twentieth century architecture there: the Beaux Arts Commerce Bank building dowtown; the elegant and archaic Marquette Hotel with its proud neon sign; the hilly north city neighborhoods with rambling late Victorian homes and flats; the robust, underused industrial buildings and warehouses of South Adamas Street. This is a slice of purely Midwestern small-scale urbanism, and it’s refreshing as the sun begins to set and the sky turns gold.

Before the sun gets too low, I spot what seems to be a grain elevator off of South Adams Street near a hydraulic rail bridge that spans the Illinois River. Seeing broken windows, I urge Angela to join me in getting a closer look. We come upon the elevator, see that it sports signs advertising a cement company and a yard full of mulch piles. It’s obviously no longer in use for storing grain. We notice the fading signs that advertise “Nutrena Feeds.” I recall that Nutrena is a subsidiary of Saint Louis-based Ralston Purina.

Sensing that permission is wise for this building, we go over to a nearby cement kiln and find the last worker right as he is closing up the yard. We ask if his company owns the elevator. He says that it does. We ask if we can photograph the elevator. He says that the elevator is condemned by the city, so we probably wouldn’t want to go inside, but there’s no problem if we go onto the property to take pictures.

Of course, he probably does not have the authority to grant permission, but his words provide enough cover that we go forth and document the Nutrena Feeds Elevator. We find that the elevator is structurally sound, although its concrete staircase has a few broken spots and lacks adequate handrails. There is also an open 14-story shaft that used to be the track for the “manlift,” a handle-and-foot-rest-only contraption that lifted workers to the top of the elevator. A partly-mummified, party-decayed cat is curled up under one grain pipe. Mostly, though, the elevator is clean and relatively safe. The elevation equipment seems intact and undamaged. Unlike buildings in St. Louis, this one has no graffiti at all. There are ladybugs everywhere, and the strong stench of decaying grain lingers on most of the few floors up to (most of our visit is spent climbing stairs to reach and leave these floors).

The basement is filled with about three feet of water, and contains a skeleton of indeterminate species. Upon seeing this, we decide to leave to investigate some of the nearby riverfront area at the foot of the bridge.

As of June 2005, the grain elevator still stands in the same condition as it did on my first visit.

Hospitals Peoria

Bartonville State Hospital

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: Bartonville, Illinois (directly south of Peoria)
OTHER NAMES: Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane; Illinois General Hospital for the Insane; Peoria State Asylum/Hospital
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: Existing buildings, 1902 – 1948

Aside from some well-told ghost stories, the history of the shuttered Bartonville State Hospital (BSH) near Peoria, Illinois has not attracted much research. This is a shame, because BSH has a significant role in the development of the Illinois state mental health system. The State of Illinois built the original mental hospital here, the Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane, in 1887. The first building — which resembled a castle and was built on the Kirkbride model — ended up never being used. Built over a mine shaft, the building began sinking upon completion and eventually collapsed. The state cleared the land in 1897 and, under the direction of Superintendent George Zeller, began construction of a new hospital that opened in 1902. Zeller called for a radical re-dedication of the hospital plan: housing patients in 33 individual “cottage” buildings with administrative, medical and kitchen services centrally located. This “cottage plan” (also called the “segregate plan”) replaced the old ideal of the singular, self-contained asylum championed by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride in the nineteenth century with a campus that suggested free and open living for the patients.

Whether or not Bartonville lived up to Zeller’s ideal is uncertain. While Zeller refused to use restraints at Bartonville, there are numerous tales of abuse of patients. Yet the state was convinced of the success of the new form of mental hospital and later employed it in design of the Alton State Hospital, which opened in 1914 and the Manteno State Hospital (located south of Chicago in Manteno), which opened in 1929.

Bartonville’s own campus contains diverse architectural styles and sits on hilly ground, so it avoids the linearity of Manteno and other hospitals. The centerpiece of BSH is the severe Bowen Building, designed in a rare Italianate style that is executed in rusticated limestone. The Bowen Building housed the nursing staff quarters and administrative offices. Nearby stand the tile-roofed, Arts-and-Crafts kitchen and dining buildings. Farther behind these is a later powerhouse. Surrounding all of these large structures were the many Georgian Revival, one-story patient housing buildings and lots of open land. There was a farm and four cemeteries for patients, which are still extant on the grounds today.

The state of Illinois closed Bartonville in 1973 and auctioned its grounds to local developer Winsley Durand, Jr., who failed to do anything with the property. The city of Bartonville acquired the hospital land in 1986 and began redeveloping it as the “Bartonville Industrial Park.” While a few of the former cottage buildings saw reuse as warehouse and office space, most ended up demolished and replaced by new, bland one-story metal frame buildings. Fortunately, the city has never torn down the landmark Bowen Building or the nearby dilapidated dining and kitchen buildings. Thus the ground retain some invocation of mystery and historical dignity with the presence of these buildings, which were the most unique at BSH. Yet the kitchen and dining buildings are in various states of collapse and the Bowen Building has suffered decay recently and the loss of many dormers and cupolas as well as its three-story porch structure in an earlier remodeling.

More information (Note: While we don’t share the conclusions of the ghost sites on this list, they over invaluable anecdotal history of BSH.):
Historic Peoria: Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois Trails History and Genealogy: Bartonville State Hospital
Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois EPA: Former State Hospital Site Sealed, Secured
Prairie Ghosts: Bartonville (Peoria) State Asylum
The Shadowlands: Famous Hauntings

Images from May 2004: