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Historic Geneva blacksmith shop hearing set on demolition

GENEVA – The Shodeen Family Foundation is continuing its quest to raze the circa 1843 limestone blacksmith shop at the Mill Race property, 4 E. State St., Geneva, insisting in its filing documents that the structure cannot be reused, repurposed or relocated.

The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at City Hall, 109 James St., on requests to remove the structure’s historic landmark designation and to permit its demolition.

Preservationists are expected to renew their objection to demolition as David Patzelt, representing the Shodeen Family Foundation, is expected to renew the position that the structure is too expensive to repurpose at $1,000 per square foot – $2 million – and it should be razed to allow redevelopment.

“Let’s say save it,” Patzelt said. “How do you pay to save it? Shodeen is very experienced and has shown over the 60 years that we’ve been in business, that they can repurpose and rehabilitate and reuse historic structures when appropriate and when financially feasible.”

These include Dodson Place, The Herrington Inn, The Pump House, Geneva on the Dam and Eastview House, Patzelt said.

“However in this case, Shodeen completed a cost analysis and the city’s own consultants during the charrette said it was not financially feasible to rehabilitate or repurpose the building,” Patzelt said. “This is the third time we’ve had an independent experienced historic architectural firm that has also determined that the significant costs to repurpose is economically not feasible because they arrived at a cost of $1,000 per square foot. Ultimately, the question is, if somebody wants to save it and repurpose it, how do you come up with the dollars to pay for it.”

Known as the Alexander Brothers Blacksmith Shop, the 30-by-48-square-foot structure was described in the preliminary historic evaluation of the site as “as one of the few examples of pre-1850 commercial or industrial buildings in Geneva and is among the oldest of its kind in the entire Fox Valley.”

“The building stands, in 2018, as an example of a utilitarian building that – for more than 170 years – has been adapted and re-purposed, continuously, to accommodate growth and redevelopment of the east bank of the Fox River at Geneva,” according to the evaluation.

The blacksmith shop was also listed on the Landmarks Illinois’ most endangered historic sites in 2018.

“I do have plans to speak at the hearing, opposing demolition,” said Kendra Parzen, advocacy manager for Landmarks Illinois.

“I am so hopeful that there is a solution that will work for the owner and also allow Geneva to keep this important resource. Resources like 4 E. State St. that date back to the settlement of a community are increasingly rare and lost over time to development pressure and suburban growth,” Parzen said. “Those that remain should be valued for their ability to tell the story of the community’s origins. Demolition should be an absolute last resort, once it’s fully been satisfied that there is no alternative.”

Parzen said she’s not convinced there are no alternatives and she is reviewing the documents in preparation for the hearing.

Shauna Wiet, chairwoman of the Kane County Historic Preservation Commission, stated in a text that the commission was also opposed to the blacksmith shop’s demolition.

“The Kane County Preservation Commission will be filing a letter in support of the building, including its relevance to the proposed fabulous Fox River Trail, which will cover eight counties from Wisconsin to Ottawa.”

Archie Bentz Jr. included the Alexander Brothers Blacksmith Shop in his book, “Refueling the Past” about the history of gas stations and blacksmith shops. He said wrote his book in conjunction with the historic societies in Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and Elburn, which assisted in his research.

“Most blacksmith shops were wooden frame buildings, very few were made of stone. That is a unique thing,” Bentz said. “They almost always had an active fire going in the forge and they had a propensity to burn down. Many have not survived for that reason.”

Julius Alexander was a veteran of the Blackhawk war in 1832, as Abraham Lincoln was, Bentz said.

“He learned blacksmithing in Plainfield, then moved to Geneva,” Bentz said. “He then became involved in the community. He was much more than a guy pounding on horseshoes on an anvil. His blacksmith shop supplied all of the iron to build the first iron bridge in the post Civil War across the Fox River. It was the Geneva bridge.”

Son of the late former mayor of Batavia, Archie Bentz Sr., who died in 2004, Bentz’s former place of business was a Texaco station on the east side of St. Charles, which is now repurposed as the St. Charles History Museum, 215 E. Main St.

The Shodeen Group’s office is on Route 31 – 77 N. First St. – Geneva, was also a former blacksmith shop owned by Louis Klink Jr., Bentz said.

“We bought a historic structure and repurposed it,” Patzelt said. “It made financial sense at the time, and we moved our corporate offices into it.”

Patzelt said in earlier public meetings, preservationists wanted a little more time to find a new use for the old blacksmith shop and a way to finance the rehabilitation.

“They have had years and they have been unable to find either of the two,” Patzelt said.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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