Monday, September 26, 2011

Yet Another Blow To Peoria's History

Reprinted with his permission is the following letter to the PJStar editor from Daniel Callahan. Dan is a longtime resident of the Moss-Bradley neighborhood and lives directly next door to Westminister House.

The dogwood leaves are loosening themselves and drifting earthward here on Malvern Lane.The gentle descent into autumn has begun.

The mood is somber, as is the news about the regal presence of this street - Westminster House at 1508 Moss. That Prairie Style/"Early Modern Rectalinear" home has graced the neighborhood for over a century. After a four-year effort by Westminster Presbyterian Church, three trials and an about-face by the Peoria City Council on its historic preservation ordinance, it looks like Westminster House will be demolished. On Sept. 8, a local circuit judge ruled that Westminster Church is exempted from historic protection and has the right to tear the house down.

We who live nearby and countless other visitors to the neighborhood expected this house to survive. Built in 1901 by William Reeves, architect of Peoria's City Hall, this residence was sturdily constructed of the finest materials. These included red slate (no longer mined,) Roman brick (which accentuates its smooth planar surfaces), beveled glass, copper, limestone and fine woods. In this era, we've come to realize the ecological cost of abandoning such precious elements. Its materials alone would have merited adaptive re-use. This house also carries an incredible cultural pedigree as the private home of a master designer. It could have endured another century as both a testament of good design and superior construction.

Sadly, its church owners could not or would not see this. I have never witnessed such fervor, such determination to throw out something of great value. In a neighborhood experiencing a renaissance, where there has been so much renewed energy and reinvestment, it makes no sense to work so hard to destroy a place that could have been a lovely, inviting home. Or used for any number of institutional or community functions. Neither ethically nor economically is demolition justified. Even more ironic and disingenuous are the claims of "religious mission" that require it to be destroyed.

And yet, we must prepare ourselves to say goodbye to this grand sentinel of the bluff. I encourage readers to make a last visit before it's too late, while keeping in mind the confluence of events that have precluded its future, the failure to appreciate what an incredible architectural heritage we've inherited, the politics that have diminished the role of historic preservation locally, and the waste of resources and energy it will take to replace them.

Let us hope that we will renew our commitment to prevent future losses like this. A first step would be for the City Council to review the hastily approved revisions of Feb. 8. Those changes to the historic preservation ordinance have made it far too easy for a jewel like Westminster House to be discarded.


1 comment:

Marvin Baird said...

". . . Old buildings are not ours. They belong, partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us. The dead still have their right in them: That which they labored for . . . we have no right to obliterate." "What we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what other men gave their strength, and wealth, and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death . . ."

by John Ruskin 1849, "The Seven Lamps of Architecture" chapter 6