In 1987, the rehabilitated Gaylord Building opened as a museum, gallery and restaurant. Last night we gathered there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of saving this landmark.
The oldest portion was built in 1838 as a supply depot for construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and thus is the oldest industrial structure in Illinois. The 3-story Italianate addition was added in the late 1850s when the building was used as a grain store and warehouse. In 1902 two brick stories were added as it became a lock factory, and in 1948 it became a plumbing supply warehouse. By the 1980s it was an abandoned hulk.
Enter the Donnelley family – Gaylord Donnelley learned his grandfather, George Gaylord, had owned the building in the 1870s and 1880s and formed a not-for-profit to rehabilitate the building. Barbi Donnelley, one of my mentors, ran the project and is still intimately involved. Jerry Adelmann, my first mentor, helped inspire it. I recall the hot August day when Gaylord Donnelley announced the project; I recall bringing a tour group to the decrepit hulk and I recall meeting Governor Thompson 20 years ago as we celebrated the opening of the building.
In 1996 it became the first adaptive re-use project to become a National Trust historic site, representing a broadening of a movement that began with house museums. The list of National Trust properties has never been the same – now we have desert pueblos, tenements, and two modern glass houses. The Gaylord also represents the reality of historic preservation – it is ALWAYS adaptive re-use.
I said that last night at the dinner. We had just reviewed an excellent new exhibit of artifacts and documents and new panels describing the entire history of the building (Go. Visit. Now.) I said that historic preservation is about the future, about rehabilitating the physical remains of the past as useful parts of contemporary life – finding new lives for sturdily built structures. It is not about preserving the past but reanimating the past so that it continues to make history.