Monday, November 29, 2010

The Death of Historic Preservation in Peoria

Historic Preservation in Peoria was officially euthanized last Tuesday when nine shortsighted politicians voted to "delist" a designated Historic Landmark. 

Led by Second District councilwoman Barbara Van Auken, these so-called civic leaders gave the green light for the demolition of the Roanoke Apartments.

The Roanoke is a beautiful example of the Prairie School influences on early 20th century construction.  With yesterday's buzzwords of "New Urbanism" all but forgotten by this current council, this building is a wonderful example of urbanism when it was truly new - luxury apartments convenient to the city center. 

Portrayed by a Journal Star hack as "blighted", the building is in remarkably great condition, with its beautiful marble foyer, mission style woodwork and doors, and many original fixtures intact.  Despite efforts by the building's owners at "demolition by neglect" (leaving windows open. etc.), the structure easily could have been restored to its original glory.

By "delisting" a Landmark, the council has, for all practical purposes, completely gutted the Historic Preservation Ordinance. 
Since the adoption of the ordinance over thirty five years ago, it always has been assumed that Landmark status was forever. 

If it can be undone by the whim of any future council, then what meaning does Landmark status have?
The answer now is "ABSOLUTELY NONE."

Ms. Van Auken, who was responsible for this atrocity, has evolved into the consummate politician.  She long ago gave up any pretense of actually representing the wishes and values of her Second District constituents.
Instead, she has become a classic 'quid pro quo' politician.
She has managed to politicize the Historic Preservation process like no one else before her.  Over the past few years she has packed the city's Historic Preservation Commission with her drinking buddies and toadies.  Indeed, the current HPC president is her own campaign manager. 
(And in this process, more historic structures have been lost under this commission than any other in recent memory!)

In her current crusade to repay political favors and campaign contributions (Brian Meginness, et al)  by demolishing the Roanoke Apartments and gutting the ordinance in the process, Van Auken even made willing pawns of the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation.
Along with her buddy, Henry Holling, she arranged "secret" meetings between the CILF leadership and Trinity so that she could go to her colleagues (and the PJStar) and say that all parties were involved in the "solution". 
And thus another of Van Auken's casualties is the credibility of the CILF and its officers in particular.

The only surprise in this debacle was that the council vote was 9 to 1. 
I thought that perhaps there might have been a couple others who would support principle over politics.  But only Councilman Sandberg had the balls to stand up for Peoria's history and for the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

So where do the true preservationists go from here?

With the process now completely politicized, we have no choice but to join the political fray.  Van Auken is clearly a politician for sale, and preservationists definitely were outbid on this one. 

ALL the district council reps will need to be replaced in 2013, particularly those in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd where most of the city's historic properties are located. 

The 4th district person lost his credibility when he tried to force a major city contract to his brother-in-law, and his action here seals that fate.

The mayor and the 5th district representative may well be in jail by then.

Of immediate concern, however, is the at-large contest coming up in the spring. 
Cumulative voting makes it difficult to target any one incumbent, but at this point I am urging folks to vote for anyone BUT Turner and Spain.

As for the other candidates, I am one preservationist ready to put my money where my mouth is.  Sandberg is a given, but who among the other candidates will commit to a firm preservationist agenda? 
Summers?  Akeson?



Pauly J. said...

What does Chuck Grayeb's track record look like?

Paul R Day said...

Well, Chuck Grayeb lives in a historic district (High Street) in a well-maintained historic home. I believe he still owns some period apartment buildings on the near northside, that are not locally protected, but again are well-maintained with a respect for their history.
Also, I recall that he was instrumental in saving Springdale Cemetary, which is one of our local Landmarks (for the time being anyway).

Anonymous said...

I knew he lived at the Hale house on High, but wasn't sure what else he'd done when he was on the council. It appears he's running for an at-large seat. I've also heard good things about C.J. Summers and Andre Williams. What do you know about these guys?

Paul R Day said...

Summers is Peoria's premier blogger (his site Peoria Chronicle can be accessed from my sidebar).
Many of his positions are well documented there, with an emphasis on basic services and firm stands against the riverfront museum and the rails to trails conversion. His commitment to Historic Preservation is not yet entirely clear. However, he is a former member of the Heart of Peoria Commission, and in that capacity he completely embraced the principles of New Urbanism. It is difficult for me to imagine that a New Urbanist would be ANTI-Preservation.
I know nothing about Mr. Williams' positions at this time.
I exchanged communications with Beth Akeson during her 3rd District run, and she began her intial email with this statement "I am a Preservationist." Let us hope that commitment endures.