Two of the most architecturally significant buildings in the Chicago metropolitan area—H.H. Richardson’s
Glessner House and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple—have received substantial grants from a new program created by Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. Several smaller grants also were announced, including those to
help preserve a geodesic dome, a railroad water tower, and abandoned steel plant structures.
The $350,000 Preservation Heritage Fund is designed in part to help fill a need that has been created by recent
state budget cuts.
“This program will help provide
sorely-needed, bricks-and-mortar assistance for our state’s threatened
architectural heritage,” said LPCI President David Bahlman in announcing the
fund’s creation. “It will also enable us to target long-term preservation
initiatives that are linked to economic development, affordable housing, and
Bahlman pointed to the organization’s experience last year in helping to rescue the
internationally-famous Farnsworth House in Plano. “After we were able to help purchase this modern masterpiece—following the failure of an earlier
state-funded attempt—we realized this approach could be replicated in a more permanent initiative,” Bahlman said.
He noted that the vast majority of public programs that support historic preservation efforts are linked to tax
incentives, either property-tax freezes for historic homeowners or income-tax deductions for those investing in historic commercial rehabilitation projects.
Sorely missing, Bahlman said, are grants and loans to nonprofit organizations who are undertaking major rehabilitation efforts or preservation planning
In 1999—with urging from LPCI—the State of Illinois created a heritage grants program that awarded approximately
$500,000 a year to dozens of projects in its three years of operation. However, the program’s funding was eliminated in the last year of the Ryan
Administration. Given current budget constraints, this funding is not likely to be reinstated anytime soon.
LPCI’s Preservation Heritage Fund
is being supported by a variety of ongoing programs, including fundraising events, corporate endowments, foundation support, and preservation easements.
“But this is only a start” Bahlman noted. “For this fund to truly have the impact it can and should have, we need to increase our endowment substantially
through outreach to local and national private and corporate foundations.” Bahlman said “We hope to engage in a productive dialogue with the philanthropic
community on the critical role that preservation efforts play in neighborhood and community development”. Bahlman says he is confident that the seed money for
this initial year’s grant program can be supplemented by additional fundraising and matching programs.
Revolving loan programs—for the purchase and re-sale of historic structures—are fairly common among nonprofit
advocacy groups. The best known are run by the Historic Savannah Foundation and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. However, statewide grants and loan
programs are still rare. The only comparable program in the U.S. is operated by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.