Workers take apart facade in downtown Champaign

Workers take apart facade in downtown Champaign

CHAMPAIGN – Call in the cryptologists.

The front of the Trevett-Mattis Banking Co. building in downtown Champaign is covered with inscriptions. To passers-by, they may seem meaningless.

Why, for example, does "73" appear above the doorway? And why are there so many double-letter combinations, like "CV" and "AP," scrawled alongside the columns?

Are they Roman numerals or simply the work of graffiti artists gone wild?

Neither. The markings are guides for dismantling the limestone facade and putting it back together again.

The venerable building at 112 W. Church St. is being torn down to make way for the M2 on Neil project, but the 97-year-old facade is being preserved for re-erection at the same site later.

"Sadly, the building has been in a relative state of disrepair since 1985 and was just too far gone to save," said Jon "Cody" Sokolski of One Main Development, the developer of M2 on Neil. "But the facade is one of the last iconic facades remaining in downtown Champaign."

Its most prominent architectural features: four gigantic columns with Ionic capitals and a tiny wreath above the door encircling the letters "T" and "M."

They symbolize the Trevett-Mattis Banking Co., later known as Bank of Illinois, which occupied the building from May 28, 1910, until it moved to new headquarters at 100 W. University Ave., C, in 1982.

When the bank moved, it took a stained-glass skylight and a farm scene mural by Stanislaus Grocholski from the old building. Both can be seen today on the main floor of the bank, now called Main Street Bank & Trust.

But the limestone facade was left behind.

Former Champaign Mayor and local historian Dannel McCollum praised the decision to save the facade. As a boy, he often went to the Trevett-Mattis Banking Co. and other downtown banks to scout for acquisitions for his coin collection.

"There was a time when banks had to look like Roman temples," McCollum said, noting that First National Bank at 30 Main St., C, (now known as National City Bank) also sports mammoth columns.

"Preserving historical facades of buildings is a fine way to preserve the traditional, classic cityscape," McCollum said. "Having lived through an era when buildings were knocked down helter-skelter, I'd say taking one of the finer facades and preserving it is a step in the right direction.

"It certainly can't be cheap to do it," he added.

Indeed, it isn't. Sokolski figures it will cost at least $200,000 and perhaps as much as $300,000 or $400,000 to preserve the facade.

"I know it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but we're not going to be one of those companies that says 'highest and best return,'" Sokolski said. "I just feel this is important. That's why we spent a lot of money to do it."

The task involves taking down hundreds of pieces of limestone, some of which are as much as 32 inches thick, said Dan Bagley, restoration division manager for the Morton-based Otto Baum Co.

"We're taking it down piece by piece, utilizing a crane for the heavy pieces," Bagley said.

The four columns are expected to be removed next week, and each is estimated to weigh 12,000 pounds, he said.

The salvaged limestone pieces will be taken to a secure yard in Monticello, Bagley said. They're expected to be stored for eight to 12 months, at which point they'll be returned to the M2 site and reassembled on a new foundation.

About 130 pieces have been labeled with numbers. Others have been marked with letter combinations – "AA" through "AZ," "BA" through "BZ" and "CA" through "CV" – said Kurt Roadruck, project manager for F.A. Wilhelm Construction. All the markings will come off when cleaned.

Detailed photographs have been taken of the building, and the numbers and letters written on the limestone pieces have also been marked on blueprints and drawings.

When the pieces are reassembled, they'll be attached to block with stainless steel anchors, rather than the iron anchors that attached them to masonry for the last century, Bagley said.

Any "dings" in the limestone will be patched, Roadruck said.

Bagley is impressed with the work done nearly a century ago.

"Every piece is being cut loose separately," he said. "By no means is it (the facade) falling apart; it's well-built."

Roadruck said the dismantling process began May 8, is about 35 percent done and will likely be completed in another week.

"It'll be a beautiful landmark restored when we're done," Bagley said.

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