By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

The Delavan Historical Society has sold the Israel Stowell Temperance House. The new owners intend to raze the structure and build a new one that will look very similar to the original in its place, according to parties involved.

The Common Council met on Aug. 25 to consider bids for the demolition of the Temperance House, 63 E. Walworth Ave. The council had issued a “raze or repair” order in December and the council tabled awarding bids for the work on Aug. 18 because a possible offer on the property was being considered.

The one-week delay was intended to give prospective buyers time to work with the city to see what was needed for the group to take over the property without the city razing the structure.

Historical Society President Patti Marsicano said the sale was agreed to, the society has accepted an offer and an escrow agreement is in place. Board President Ron Henriott, who ran this portion of the meeting because Mayor Ryan Schroeder recused himself as a Historical Society board member, verified that was true and made the motion that passed unanimously to reject the bids for the demolition. Alderman Tommy Purcell also recused himself.

Peter Oyloe, owner of the Allyn Mansion, spoke in opposition to the agreement as he had also submitted an offer to buy the building last week. Oyloe said before the meeting his intention was to restore the building as it stands and he had the support of two of the nation’s leading preservationists.

During the meeting, Oyloe made a passionate plea to preserve something unique to Delavan. He said the city council should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.

“The city government works for the citizens of the community,” Oyloe said.

He said the role of local government is to make policy that improves the quality of life for the citizens with projects the citizens pay for. He said city government should not just take in tax money and spend it on pet projects of its tiny elected body, many of whom represent a small minority vote of the actual citizens of the community.

Oyloe said the city should focus on preserving things about Delavan that are unique. He said the Temperance House, built in 1840, is the only building of its kind in the city and he called it a “literal thread to our collective past”.

Former Alderman Chris Phillips, who spoke at the Aug. 18 meeting on behalf of Oyloe and in criticism of the Historical Society for not accepting his offer, also spoke. Phillips said the city inappropriately interfered in the sale of the building and Oyloe may have been willing to offer even more money to acquire the property if not for that interference.

Phillips said he is all for tearing down old ugly properties, but if there is someone willing and able to preserve one, he was in favor of that as well. He said he hoped the accepted offer that would not result in a tear down and another vacant lot.

Two other people spoke in support of preserving the building as well.

Alderman Carrie Deschner-Brandt said she has always been in favor of preserving the building and the city now had to decide between sticking taxpayers with the bill for razing the structure or approving a sale that would get the Historical Society some money. She said that was an easy call to make.

Luis Solis said he also supported saving the building, though it took time for him to get there. He said in the past he was in favor of tearing it down but then he heard from community members who wanted to save it. He said he was elected to serve the people and there is a lot of support in the community for saving the building.

Matt Bieser said he has a healthy appreciation for history but the city was put into a box about the Temperance House because it became unsafe for the community. He said he was thrilled the city now had a way out.

Paul Wilson also said he would like to see the building rebuilt and was excited to see what can be done with it.

Despite the optimism shown by the aldermen, the new owners of the building have no intention of preserving it. The group that is working toward purchasing the building is called Ann Street Property Management. The spokesman for the group did not want to be identified individually. He said the group has had three professional contractors look at the building and it would be just too expensive to rehabilitate it. He said he was told it would take $1.5 million just to get started with much more money needed down the road.

Ann Street Property Management plans to raze the structure and replace it with a new building that will look just like the current one on the outside. The inside will be totally different and it has not yet been determined what type of businesses would occupy the space. Some type of historical space will be created to document the history of the Temperance House.

The timeline for the razing of the structure or building is known yet as the closing on the property has not happened. Greenspace will occupy the former location of the Temperance House until plans for a new building are finalized.

When asked if the group would consider selling the property to Oyloe since he is interested in trying to preserve the current building, the representative for Ann Street Property Management said he did not see that happening because of his group’s plans for the property and because he did not believe Oyloe could come up with the necessary money to save the building.

After the meeting, Wilson, Solis and Bieser all said they were not aware the new owners of the building intended to raze it. Wilson said he was under the impression the new owner was planning to preserve the building, but without the offer the building would have been torn down anyway for safety reasons.

“I am not aware of who the purchaser is and what their intentions are, however, I thought they must have serious resources to invest $600,000 to $800,000 on a structure that’s in that bad of shape,” Wilson said.

Solis said he also was not aware of the intentions of the new owners, but the offer met the city’s requirements and the city cannot intervene in private plans for the property. He said he knows a lot of people would like to see the building saved but when it comes down to the cost to do so, he understood.

“It is in their hands now and I hope their direction is what is best for the city,” Solis said.

Solis said he was sad to hear the building may be razed and hoped the new owners would take steps to preserve its history.

Bieser also said he did not know the intentions of the new owners but was aware it was distinctly possible they would not preserve the building as they were under no obligation to do so.

“I am definitely bittersweet about it,” Bieser said. “I wish it could be preserved but I am a realist and realize not everyone has the funds to do that.”

He said the sale of the property opened up a possibility, but people in the city have been trying to save the building for five years without success.

 
 

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