Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Latest Assault on Historic Preservation

Just a few short weeks ago, the Peoria City Council gutted the Historic Preservation Ordinance by "de-listing" a designated landmark, the Roanoke Apartments.

The building's owner, Trinity Lutheran Church ,wasted no time in its demolition.
Now all that remains of that beautiful Prairie-style structure are photos and a flat plot of dirt where the building proudly stood for a century.

Now, adding insult to injury, the council continues their assault on the Historic Preservation Ordinance. This Tuesday, they will vote on increases in fees by amounts that have never before been seen.

Although they are arguing that the fee increases are needed to offset the cost of enforcement, they seem more designed to stifle preservation and make landmarking more difficult and less desirable for the owners of historic structures.

For many years, a Certificate of Appropriateness has cost the home-owner $25. This certificate is required for anyone who wants to perform an exterior update to an historic structure in accordance with the law.

Granted the $25 fee seems low, so what is a reasonable increase?
Perhaps a hike to $35 or $40?
Even a doubling of the fee to $50, while steep, could be argued as necessary.

But, no.

Henry Holling and his council henchmen have decided to raise the fee to $250.
That's right, a ten-fold increase.
That is a fee increase of ONE THOUSAND PERCENT!

When is the last time you have seen any governmental fee (at any level) increased by ONE THOUSAND PERCENT?

This means that any homeowner who wants to change the position of a downspout or add an attached flower box will need to pay $250 simply to ASK FOR PERMISSION.
(The request may well be denied with no refund or rebate of this fee).

Additionally, city staff is recommending the same ONE THOUSAND PERCENT increase in the fee for an individual landmark application.  Currently, the fee is $50.  Under the staff recommended changes, the fee would rise to $505  (the Historic Preservation Commission has recommended an increase to $105).

These fees seem less designed to increase revenue, but rather to discourage landmarking and preservation by owners.  It discourages owners to landmark by having to pay $505 for consideration and knowing that any future external project is automatically increased by $250. 
It also encourages current owners of historic homes to circumvent the law and perform updates without HPC approval.

It is hard to believe that this is even a serious consideration, and yet there it is in black and white on the council agenda.

CJ Summers, the premiere local blogger, and current candidate for City Council is usually quick to expose these types of outrages and foolishness from the city "leaders".

I had hoped that, as a former member of the Heart of Peoria Commission and a self-professed "new urbanist", he would emerge as a candidate that historic preservationists could rally behind.

However, his silence thus far on this issue has been deafening.

=UPDATE:  CJ informs me that he was unaware this would be on Tuesday's agenda =

On Friday, I spoke to candidate Chuck Grayeb who was unaware of the issue, but promised to review it. He seemed genuinely shocked at the amount of the proposed increases.

The vote, however, is scheduled for this Tuesday, and I hope that the current council will at least have the decency to defer till a new council is seated.

I also have not found any public statement on this outrage from Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation or from Peoria Historical Society.
Where are the voices for preservation when needed?


Saturday, January 22, 2011

- Theater Review - Metropolis Has No Superman

The Corn Stock Winter Playhouse continued its season with the presentation of two plays by playwrights "with local roots".

The first play is "Context", written and directed by Peorian Laura Swatner Johnson.
At just under ten minutes, this play was mercifully short. With no dialogue at all, it is a trite and forgettable narrative on communicating strictly through text message.

The evening's main event is "Metropolis Has No Superman" directed by Sean C. Howell and written by G. William Zorn. Mr. Zorn is a native Peorian, currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Western Michigan University.
Although this play was the winner of the Kennedy Center's 2009 Mark Twain Prize for Comedy Play writing, I would classify it as a drama with only a few comedic moments. Do not attend expecting a lot of belly laughs.

The play is set in Metropolis Illinois and centers on Chance Loring's estrangement from his family and in particular from his just deceased father. Many years ago, Chance fled the confines of small town Metropolis for the gay subculture in Chicago, where he makes his living drawing and publishing Queer-Boy Comics. Through his comics, Chance fictionalizes his family as well as his own life. The title character, Queer Boy, is based on Chance's boyfriend, Tracy. Another character, Jesus Girl is based on his sister Deedee. The comic book's villain is based on, you guessed it, Chance's father, Graham Loring.

After an absence of six years, Chance returns to Metropolis for his father's funeral. The elder Loring has committed suicide by driving his Chrysler full-speed into the statue of Superman that stands before the county courthouse.

This play is a solid work about family interaction and dysfunction by a talented aspiring playwright. It is filled with innuendo and symbolism, some of which is perhaps a bit too obvious. 

It was exciting to watch the play WITH the playwright and to be able to speak with him after.  I asked if his choice of a character name Tracy Betts was an homage to Chicago playwright Tracy Letts.  He replied that perhaps he subconsciously hoped to tap the good fortune that Letts had encountered with his Pulitzer Prize winning play "August Osage County", a  play that also examines similar themes of alcoholism and family dynamics.

This Corn Stock production is extremely well acted. 
All of the women deliver excellent performances, Rebecca Frankel Clifton as Marion, the alcoholic matriarch of the Loring clan, Donna K. Eckhoff as the slow and somewhat butch sister Doris; and Karen Stecher is especially good as sister Deedee Betterman/Jesus Girl.

John Carroll does a great turn in the lead role of Chance.  Fred Schoen is good as father Graham, and Jeff Craig is truly excellent in his portrayal of two totally different characters, Burt and Bill. 
While Brian McKinley does a good job as Tracy/Queer Boy, he is perhaps a little too laid-back in the role.  I would have liked to see him turn it up a notch.  In my opinion, the character needed to be a bit more flamboyant.   

It is truly commendable that Corn Stock, for the second year, is continuing to offer exposure to local playwrights.

Please make it a point to see this production at the Lab Theater in upper Bradley Park.  Tickets are only $10 and can purchased through the box office (676-2196) or at the door.  Performances continue tonight and tomorrow as well as next weekend (January 27 - 29).


'Nuff Said

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January Poetry Corner

A Poem for Sarah Baartman
                  By Diana Ferrus

“I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.

I have come to wretch you away –
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!

I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.

I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white –
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.”


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eastlight Theatre - 2011 Season

Eastlight Theatre has announced its 2011 season.

XANADU - April 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16

AVENUE Q - June 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25

HAIRSPRAY - August 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13

JOSEPH 2011 - December 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Season tickets are $70 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 699-SHOW
or online at


Saturday, January 8, 2011

- Theater Review - Blue Man Group

Peoria Civic Center Theater continued their 2010-2011 season with "Blue Man Group".
This offering presented a night of high-tech lighting, video, animation, and bone-jarring percussion.
The show included audience participation, slapstick humor, and giant balls and streamers shot into the crowd.

In my review of last season's "Cirque Dreams Illumination", I included this line:

"...this ain't really theater."

This statement is equally true here.

I understand the Peoria Civic Center's desire to expand their repertoire in an attempt to draw in more people, and evidently this is working well for them. 
Friday night's opening performance enjoyed a packed house of enthusiastic people of all ages.  The crowd loved this show.

However, the theater snob in me believes that shows like this and "Cirque" have no place in a Broadway Theater Series. 

Perhaps next year the PCC Theater can introduce a separate "Las Vegas Theater Series".

"Blue Man Group" has its final performance tonight.