Belleville Turner Hall

Quick Stats

  • LOCATION: 15 N. First Street, Belleville, St. Claire County
  • STATUS: Saved
  • BUILT: 1923-1924
  • SITE TYPE: Social Club, Sports Facility
  • ARCHITECTURE: Art Deco and Gothic
  • GEOGRAPHY: Downstate
  • THREAT AT TIME OF LISTING: Building was vacant for seven years and in need of reuse and repair.
  • CURRENT USE: Commercial
  • TAKE ACTION: Join Peer 151 co-working space

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

The 1923 building was originally constructed as a home for the German community’s Turnverein organization, a social group that believed in “a sound mind in a sound body.” The hall served as a community hub, providing space for symposia, festivals and political debates. During World War II and the Korean War, the building saw use as an armory before it returned to its roots as a gymnasium and social center in 1960 as the Belleville YMCA. “My belief is that it’s the most significant non-religious building in our city,” said Larry Betz, President of the Belleville Historical Society in an LI-produced 2017 video.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time of Listing - 2011

In 2006, the YMCA vacated the building and transferred ownership of Turner Hall to the City of Belleville. By 2010, Turner Hall was in desperate need of a new use and immediate repairs, especially after the City’s Request for Proposals yielded no responses. The future of Turner Hall looked bleak after an attempt to convert the site into an arts and cultural center failed.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

Luckily, instead of a costly and taxpayer-funded demolition, Turner Hall has rescued by local businessman Kurt Artinger, who acquired the building in 2013. Artinger credited his idea for purchasing the building with his lifelong ties to the community of Belleville. In fact, he grew up on Abend Street, just outside of Belleville’s historic downtown area. Artinger, who had previous experience renovating older properties, saw the value in Turner Hall right away. “I looked at the old trusses,” he said, according to a 2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, “and thought, ‘Wow, that could be a really cool space for a call center.’” If the city of Belleville would help, he pledged to invest some $700,000 to retrofit the onetime Turner Hall into a new home for his company, Artigem Replacement Services LLC, which helps insurers determine claim adjustments for covered valuables.

Combining private investment with Federal Historic Tax Credits and a downtown tax increment financing (TIF) –available for projects that promote public and private investment in a community –Artinger was able to finance a rehabilitation that not only saved a historic structure, but also made financial sense. “When you think about it,” Artinger said in the Post-Dispatch article, “Where can I get 12,000 square feet, with the ability to add more, for a $700,000 investment?” A comparably-sized new development could cost up to $1.5 million or more.

The rehabilitation project included asbestos removal and installation of a new roof, electric, plumbing and HVAC systems. Fortunately, the barrel roof’s frame of original oak trusses and beams remained solid. Working with Landmarks Illinois, Artinger was able to preserve many defining features of Turner Hall’s former life, including a number of brick and limestone Art Deco and Gothic elements, as well as its Craftsman-inspired style. “I think the architecture of the building is so strong. It’s just a great building, still solid,” he said in the Post-Dispatch article. The first floor storefronts were repainted and restored to their original colors and a stage backdrop from the original Turners was found and rehung.

After various uses as a Turner Hall, armory, teen center and YMCA, the rehabilitated Turner Hall went on the tax rolls for the first time in its history. The first floor of the building currently serves as the headquarters Artigem Replacement Services, with the old gymnasium functioning as a call center. “It’s kind of hard to walk into this old gymnasium that we’ve redeveloped without being inspired,” said Artinger in the 2017 LI video on Turner Hall. The second floor of the building is home to Peer 151, Belleville’s first ever coworking space and business incubator. By 2017, Peer 151 had already helped to nurture and launch 15 new businesses to downtown Belleville. In this way, Turner Hall remains a hub for the Belleville community, much as it has for the past century. “The community as a whole has supported this tremendously,” Artinger said.

The City of Belleville and local organizations, including the Belleville Historical Society, applauded the project for demonstrating that preservation can create jobs and generate local taxes while saving a place that matters to the community.

Landmarks Illinois made the rehabilitation of Turner Hall the focus of a student video produced in 2017 as part of LI’s video project “People Saving Places: Stories About the Importance of Place.”

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

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