by Michael R. Allen
The city of Belleville, Illinois has extended through August 30 the period for its Request for Proposals for the old city-owned Belleville Turner Hall. Located just north of the bustling Main Street business district at the southwest corner of 1st and A streets, the large building enjoys strong architectural and social significance.
The RFP can be found online here with instructions on how to contact the city for interested developers. This is a great opportunity: a large mixed-use building adjacent to a commercial district that seems to add new shops and pedestrians every week.
The Belleville YMCA used the building from 1960 through 2005, so the building is most commonly called the Old YMCA Building. Hence, the advocacy website for the effort to preserve the building is called Y Save the Y. That site has a lot of historical information as well as photographs.
Designed by Julius Floto and completed in 1923, the Craftsman-influenced Turner Hall features a wooden bow-truss gymnasium and a theater on the second floor with storefronts below. The 20,000 square foot building combined the large spaces required by the Turners with space for small businesses along the downtown the sidewalk. To this day, the building remains remarkably intact (inside and out) and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has determined that the building is individually eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Citizens have submitted a nomination that is pending.
There is an interesting architectural connection between the Belleville Turner Hall and Frank Lloyd Wright: Julius Floto, an structural engineer by training, was the structural engineer for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. After the hotel survived the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, Floto published the article “Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan” in the February 1924 issue of Architectural Record. The article detailed the structural properties that made the hotel survive the devastation.