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Songs and Stories
     March 11, 2020      #9A-71 SsK

Jack Klasey: Kankakee's many City Hall

By Jack Klasey

Have you ever noticed two of Kankakee’s major public buildings — Lincoln Cultural Center (former Kankakee High School) at 240 Warren Ave., and the Public Safety Building (former City Hall) at Indiana Avenue and Oak Street —appear oddly similar?

Both date to the 1920s, and both are red-brick structures in a style called Tudor-Gothic, with limestone trim at the entry, on building corners and around windows. The similarities are no coincidence as both structures were designed by the same architect, Leonard F. W. Stuebe, of Danville, and built by the same contractor, Moroff Construction Co. of Kankakee.

Both the Kankakee City Hall (top) and Kankakee High School (bottom) buildings were designed in the 1920s by Danville architect Leonard F. W. Stuebe. Kankakee County Museum Photo Archive

The building at Indiana and Oak was Kankakee’s first permanent city hall. For more than 70 years after its founding in the 1850s, the community’s government offices were housed in rented quarters. The earliest City Hall recorded in a Kankakee city directory was in 1894, with the location given only as “Dearborn, between Court and Merchant.” In 1903, the city rented space in the Fraser Building, on the south side of Merchant Street, midway between Schuyler and Dearborn (that building, in later years, was an annex to Alden’s Department Store). Between 1903-26, the city offices (including police and fire departments) occupied several different buildings in the 200 block of East Merchant Street.

Support for building a permanent home for city offices surfaced in the early 1900s but was set aside when the Washington Avenue bridge was rebuilt in 1904 (officials said that the city couldn’t afford to do two major construction projects at that time).

By the late 1920s, however, the idea of building a city hall surfaced again. In the 1927 municipal election, a $176,000 bond issue for that project was on the ballot. Mayoral candidate Louis E. Beckman worked tirelessly in support of the bond issue. “Although he had no opposition in the mayoral race,” reported the Kankakee Daily Republican, “Mr. Beckman was on the streets all day, urging everyone to go to the polls.”

This view of City Hall and Fire Station No. 1, was probably taken sometime between 1915 and 1920. Kankakee County Museum Photo Archive

The bond issue was approved, and a search immediately began for a suitable building location. A City Hall committee was formed by the City Council, and received proposals for more than a dozen potential sites. After two months of investigation, the committee met on June 23, 1927, to make its selection.

“The committee session last nite … was a rather stormy one,” reported the Daily Republican. “Several wards were represented in the committee and the representatives held out for sites in their own section. … The site at the corner of Dearborn avenue and Station street and the one where the west side fire station is located were two of those which received the most serious consideration.”

The committee’s choice, however, was a 145-foot by 100-foot lot located on the northwest corner of Indiana Avenue and Oak Street. The committee’s choice was ratified by an 8-5 vote of the full City Council, and the property was purchased for $17,000 from its owner, the First Evangelical Church.

Danville architect Leonard F. W. Stuebe was selected to design the new building. Stuebe, noted in the Daily Republican, “is also the designer of the high school building here. He has designed a large number of public buildings in Illinois.”

He presented preliminary plans for the City Hall by the end of July. The two-story building would have the police and fire departments on the first floor, and the City Council chambers, mayor’s office, a courtroom for the police magistrate, and offices for city departments on the second floor. The building’s basement would provide space for a gymnasium used by policemen and firefighters, a “bum room” for vagrants being held overnight, heating equipment, and storage.

The Kankakee City Hall building designed in 1927 by Danville architect Leonard F. W. Stuebe, was the city’s first permanent home for city officials and departments. Kankakee County Museum Photo Archive

Fire department facilities, facing on Oak Street, would include four equipment bays: three for firetrucks and one for the fire chief’s car. The police station, on the east side of the first floor, with a separate entrance off Indiana Avenue, would have offices, locker room, a reception area, and several cells. Cells “specially designed for women” were included in the plans “due to the active working for this end of the woman’s civic organizations of the city.”

Construction work began in late February 1928; on April 22 of the next year, the new building was formally dedicated. The Daily Republican described the event in lyrical terms: “Kankakee’s new city hall, all scrubbed and shining, and in holiday attire, is the gathering place today of thousands of people who have come to examine that which is more than just a building, but an expression of civic pride.”

Local History Trivia:

In 2008, the city’s offices moved out of the building at Indiana and Oak to an even older structure that became the current City Hall. Where is that structure, and when was it built?

Answer: The former Kankakee Public Library, on the southeast corner of Indiana and Station Street, was built in 1898. It became the new City Hall in 2008 after an extensive interior remodeling. The 1928 City Hall building is now the Public Safety Building, housing the city's police and fire departments.

Jack Klasey is a former Journal reporter and a retired publishing executive. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at editors@daily-journal.com or directly at jwklasey@comcast.net.

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Jack Klasey
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