Wildey Theater to receive state preservation award

News-DemocratOctober 13, 2013 

— The Wildey Theater will be honored as an example of historic preservation at a state ceremony in Chicago.

The Wildey Theater will receive the President's Award for Rehabilitation from Landmarks Illinois, as part of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards on Oct. 26.

The Wildey will be one of nine projects honored this year. "This year's winners ... demonstrate that preservation is not only a tool to rejuvenate a vacant building, which many of our award winners were, but a key revitalization strategy for business, government and community purposes," said Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald. "Historic places are leading Illinois to a better future."

The Wildey Theater began life as an opera house in 1909, but after 75 years as a theater and movie house, it closed its doors in 1984. It became more and more dilapidated over the years until the city purchased it in 1999 with state grant funds.

After being unable to attract a private developer, City Council members voted to develop it themselves as part of the parks and recreation program. After a $2.8 million renovation paid for with a combination of public and private money, the Wildey reopened on its 102nd birthday.

"The Wildey has become a great source of pride in southwest Illinois," said Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton. "Some small towns have a courthouse square, others have a distinctive water tower: Edwardsville has the Wildey Theater."

Former alderman Rich Walker, who spearheaded the effort to rehabilitate the Wildey, said he was "particularly pleased" to see this recognition of the city's commitment.

"Economic times could not have been worse, and so it took courage and foresight for the mayor and city council to support restoring the Wildey," Walker said.

"No one has left the Wildey in the last two years and said, 'What a dump.' Instead, they leave praising how beautiful it is and how fortunate we are to have this in our own backyard for all of southwest Illinois. I couldn't agree more."

The other projects honored for rehabilitation will be the Randolph Tower, Harper Theater and Pomeroy Apartments of Chicago and Washington Square Apartments in Moline.

The Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail in Columbia will be honored for education; Livingston County Courthouse in Pontiac will be honored for restoration; Pure Oil Building in Geneva will be honored for advocacy and Walgreens Store in Chicago for adaptive use.

The awards are designed to honor the Chicago Stock Exchange building, whose demolition in 1972 inspired the founding of Landmarks Illinois.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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