Historic Urbana house in need of a revival

Historic Urbana house in need of a revival

URBANA – The house designed and built a century ago by famed Urbana architect Joseph Royer is once again up for sale, and in need of some loving care.

Located a block east of Lincoln Avenue at 801 W. Oregon St., the eight-bedroom mission-style house was built in 1905 by Royer – Urbana's premier architect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – as a residence for him and his wife, Adelaide.

Royer is credited with the designs of several famous Urbana landmarks, including the historic Lincoln Hotel, the Champaign County Courthouse, the Urbana Free Library and Urbana High School, among others.

With its stucco walls and clay tile roof, it's believed Royer was inspired to design his own house after seeing a similar structure at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. He and his wife lived at 801 W. Oregon St. until their deaths in 1954.

Since that time, the house has been home to a number of different occupants. In 1969, it was purchased by Omega Tau Sigma, a professional fraternity for veterinary medicine students at the University of Illinois. The fraternity vacated the Royer house in 2001 after a fire and sold the property to Young Sun Kang of Chicago, who has rented the house to students.

After years of student residents and far-away landlords, the Royer house has endured its share of wear and tear. But preservationists are hopeful the house will end up back in the hands of someone interested in preserving both the house and its historic integrity.

"We are very hopeful that a house like this does get a positive new owner who's excited about it," said city of Urbana historic preservation planner Rebecca Bird. "Changes for the better in a neighborhood like this can have a trickle effect on the rest of the neighborhood.

"The house is significant," she said. "Joseph was the most prominent architect (in the area) from around the late 1800s until the 1930s and his impact on the community is significant. His impact goes throughout the community."

"This was his house," Bird added. "Not just a house that he designed, but that he actually lived in. And it's an unusual house in that neighborhood, as well."

Prior to establishing his own architectural firm in 1906, Royer served as Urbana's city engineer. His firm's offices were located in the Flat Iron building, located on Main Street, which he designed. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1948.

The 106-year-old house is on the market for $539,000. It has 3,935 square feet, eight bedrooms, three full baths and two half-baths. It also has a finished basement, but no garage.

Realtor Susan Frobish said despite the years of wear and tear brought on by fraternity life, original pieces of the Royer house have remained intact.

In the dining room, oil paintings depicting landscape scenes line the walls.

"They are something you'd see from around the early 1900s," said Frobish, a former Preservation and Conservation Association board member. She has restored a fraternity house on Ohio Street and six other homes in the same west Urbana neighborhood as the Royer house.

There is also grill work over some of the windows in the dining room.

"They are decorative pieces that are original to the house," Frobish said. "I've never seen anything like that."

Both the interior and exterior of the house boast arched doorways. Inside, the original wainscoting is still intact and there's a sunken fireplace seating area in the living room, which Frobish said is original to the house.

While Frobish believes the downstairs fireplace mantel has been changed, the upstairs master bedroom has a fireplace with a stucco front and Spanish architecture influence.

"I thought the downstairs would have originally had something similar," Frobish said.

A butler's pantry, which functions as a pass through between the kitchen and dining room, also still has the original cabinetry.

Among the list of things that need to be done in and around the house, Frobish said the wood floors need to be refurbished and the walls painted, the landscaping and plumbing need attention and the heating system is old.

"It would take a pretty good investor to restore the house, but there have been people who take on bigger challenges," she said. "It is a building that's worth saving; there's wonderful potential."

Being in a historic district, the Royer house has restrictions on what can be changed, Bird said. A certificate of appropriateness is required for any changes that affect the exterior of the home, and to get approval, a homeowner would have to go before the city's historic preservation commission.

But on the flip side, Bird said an owner of a house like the Royer house has more resources available to guide him or her through the process of changing or updating a home. "It is really important to our community that this house is restored," Frobish said.

Bird agreed that it will take a certain type of buyer to bring the Royer house back to its original charm.

"It can be challenging to find new owners willing to find ways to use houses (like this one) that are so large, and have smaller lots. but we're hopeful," she said.

More information on the house can be found www.twincityrealty.net.

Royer made his mark

The Joseph Royer house at 801 W. Oregon and the property just to the south, 701 S. Busey Ave. (an English-style cottage designed and built by Royer back in 1923 for his mother-in-law, Ella Danely), make up the Joseph W. Royer Historic District.

Those houses have separate owners, but both are a part of the larger Joseph W. Royer Architectural District, which encompasses Main Street, Elm Street and Green Street between Lincoln Avenue and Lynn Street.

Royer prepared plans for 13 buildings in the district, including the Champaign County courthouse and sheriff's residence and jail, which has since been demolished; Canaan Baptist Church; the Unitarian Universalist Church; and the Lloyd House, a private residence located on Grove Street, among others, according to the city of Urbana.

When it was established in 2001, the Royer Historic District was Urbana's first historic district.

Since then, two other historic districts have been created in Urbana:

–  Buena Vista Court, a courtyard of eight Spanish-style bungalows located between Elm Street and Springfield Avenue.

–  And the 800 block of West Main Street between Lincoln and Busey avenues.

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