I was in Alton, Illinois, two weekends ago for the (semi) annual Illinois Statewide Preservation Conference. This year the conference was hosted by the Illinois Association of Historic Preservation Commissions, an organization that provides information and support to the municipal commissions that provide, in some cases, the only means of defending endangered local buildings.
There was lots of time to talk to commissioners from around Illinois. The major topic of conversation was a big downer: the slow leeching of funds and power away from these crucial governing bodies, a condition not atypical under normal circumstances but increasingly exacerbated by the relentlessly lagging economy. We did get a chance to see a few success
stories though: I especially enjoyed Lumenelle’s quick recounting of the restoration of the
massive chandelier – reverently named “The Duchess” – inside the lobby of Joliet’s Rialto Square Theatre. Also inspiring was Rock Island’s preservation commission’s landmarking of a rare early settlement house.
The weekend of the conference, held by the way at beautiful Lewis & Clark Community College, laid out one critical reality: local landmarking is an invaluable tool in the preservation of our historic heritage. By officially designating local historic structures as landmarks, municipalities gain more control over the changes made to these structures. In communities without preservation commissions granted the power of permit review, some structures are vulnerable to
devastating alterations or, even worse, demolition. If you don’t know if your town or county has a preservation commission, find out. If your town or county doesn’t have a commission, start one.
I’ve posted a few pictures of Alton, Illinois, which has a great downtown right on the banks of the Mississippi River. Traipsing around with our gang of preservation nerds, we found a great mid-century bank and an Eclectic style storefront rumored to have been originally been built at the site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, only to be purchased after the fair, dismantled and rebuilt in Alton.