Vote on Local Historic Landmark Status for Kroehler YMCA Building Fails

Kroehler YMCA
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A request to secure local historic landmark status for the Kroehler YMCA building in Naperville was rejected last night by the Historic Preservation Commission.

Historical Significance

Naperville Preservation Inc. President Becky Simon made her case at the meeting, explaining why her group believes the building is significant.

“The Kroehler YMCA meets the defined criteria to be a local landmark,” Simon said. “One, it is over 50 years old. Two, it is the result of multiple significant events in Naperville. Three, it embodies distinguishing architectural characteristics. Four, it is within the Naperville National Register Historic District.”

Built in 1910 and opened in 1911, the Kroehler YMCA was constructed thanks to the efforts of former Naperville mayor and businessman Peter Kroehler, along with other local leaders. It served as a community hub and hosted a variety of programs through the years. But it was forced to close in June 2020, due to financial stress worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kroehler YMCA Legacy

Preservation advocates said they are working to keep the building’s legacy alive and would like to see it landmarked and repurposed. But the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago has other plans for the building. The property is currently under contract at $1.6 million with an undisclosed buyer.  As part of the deal, funding would be allocated toward YMCA programs.

Community Opposition

Scott Day, the attorney for the property owner, urged the commission to vote down the request for landmark designation.

“Denial of the landmark designation actually serves the public good,” Day said. “Denial of the landmark designation will allow YMCA to liquidate an asset profitably and will allow the new development to embrace this key location consistent with the Naperville Downtown 2030 plan.”

The city currently has four structures designated as local historic landmarks. The Kroehler YMCA building is nestled between two of them: the Old Nichols Library and Naperville Woman’s Club.

Community Support

Naperville resident Tim Messer said he would like the building to be adapted for re-use.

“Too often preservation advocates are painted as being against change,” Messer said. “Nobody is saying it has to remain a YMCA. Nobody is arguing to keep the 70s era additions. Nobody is expecting or even wanting it to be a museum. But a plaque on the property and poster at the Naper Settlement are not preservation efforts. I don’t stand here as an obstructionist, I stand here as someone who cares about Naperville’s history and doesn’t wish to see another piece of it lost to a wrecking ball.”

If approved, the designation would come with a caveat. Allison Laff, the city’s deputy director for Transportation, Engineering and Development, said the 1973 and 1976 additions to the Kroehler YMCA building would be subject to different standards than the original structure. Those extensions to the north and west allowed for a pool, lobby and racquetball court. Laff said those could be demolished without further approval from the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Any future proposals on the site that would be new construction that would be visible to the right of way with Washington Street or any proposed modifications to the original portion that is landmarked, is preserved would be subject to future Historic Preservation Commission review,” Laff said.

The proposal failed 4-1, with Commissioner Mark Urda as the lone yes vote.

Moving Forward

City Council will have the final say on this topic at a later date.

Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead.

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