Old farmhouse will get new life in Urbana

CHAMPAIGN – A Skokie developer and University of Illinois alumnus will move and renovate a historic farmhouse on campus.

Terraco Inc., which won a state award last year for preserving a historic train station in Skokie, plans to move the former poultry manager's house to a lot in Urbana and possibly rent it to UI students.

The circa-1925 bungalow was used as a home for the poultry farm manager for eight decades. Designed by longtime university architect James White, it's one of the last remnants of agricultural research north of St. Mary's Road.

The UI agreed to sell the white frame house for as little $1, plus a suggested donation to its historic preservation fund, to anyone willing to move the structure to an approved site. Terraco bid $5, plus a $5,000 contribution to the preservation fund.

Company founder Scott Gendell, a 1979 graduate of the UI College of Communications, saw the project as an opportunity to save another historic building, provide a service to the UI and "do something that we can be proud of that hopefully will not be commercially unreasonable."

The one-and-a-half-story house has six rooms plus a full bathroom on the first floor, as well as a floored attic.

The interior has a large bay window with a window seat, pocket doors, brass doorknobs and original wood trim throughout.

The house is part of the UI's poultry research unit, which will eventually be moved south of Curtis Road as part of the massive relocation of the South Farms. It also sits in the way of a planned expansion of the nearby Atkins Tennis Center.

The UI had planned to demolish the house, but the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency urged the university to consider alternatives because of its historic significance. The house is eligible for the National Register for Historic Places, partly because of its role in UI agricultural research.

UI officials had estimated it would cost $25,000 to $50,000 to move the house, and another $50,000 to renovate it.

Gendell wants to restore the house, perhaps add bedrooms in the attic or basement, and make it available for student housing. Plans are to move it "as quickly as possible," said Terraco's property manager, Dennis Broderick. The firm is considering two lots – one near Philo Road and Florida Avenue, the other near Vine and California, he said.

Given the home's past, Gendell already has a name picked out: Rooster House.

"We do a lot of projects that are just about commerce. This is more about doing something that we think is right and significant," Gendell said.

Gendell founded Terraco in 1985. The commercial development firm has been involved in 80 projects throughout the country, specializing in shopping centers. It was one of three general partners on the 43-acre development at Prospect Avenue and Town Center Boulevard that includes Menard's, Border's Books & Music, Old Navy and other stores.

Two years ago, Terraco acquired historic Dempster Station in Skokie, along the old Skokie Swift train line that ran to Howard Street in Chicago.

The company bought the Prairie-style structure, designed by famed architect Arthur Gerber in the 1920s, from the village of Skokie for $1. It was, he said, "an old beat-up train station."

To move the 800,000-pound building to its new site, workers had to cut it off the foundation, hoist it up with hydraulic lifts, put it on wheels and push it 100 feet along specially installed train tracks before setting it on a new foundation.

The building was then restored and converted into a Starbucks and a bank. The project won a restoration award from the state in 2004.

"It's doing extraordinarily well," Gendell said. "It's an interesting project, something that we're very proud of."

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