Whatever happened to: The Solon House

Whatever happened to: The Solon House

CHAMPAIGN — The "most daunting" work that needed to be done on the tall Italianate beauty on South State Street has been finished or is in progress:

A new roof. The rebuild of the falling-down wraparound porch. Restoration of exterior woodwork, including cornices and soffits. And the replacement or tuckpointing of crumbling bricks on the walls and in the foundation, from the footings to the top.

Further work is on hold, due to the weather.

"The last couple of weeks, it's been nasty and no one wanted to do anything," said Thomas Garza, executive director of the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA), which owns the 1867 Solon House. "When the weather firms up, we'll get back to it and finish up."

Since 2005, when descendants of the Solon family donated the home to PACA, the local preservationists in the group have had work done on its shell, shoring it up against the elements — and time.

"It's like triage. You take somebody into the emergency room and do something to stabilize them," Garza said.

He expects the work to be done — the general contractor is Neil Strack's Architectural Expressions — late spring.

"We'll always be doing something, in terms of maintenance, as long as we own it," Garza said. "As far as planned work, we're done."

By the time PACA finishes up, it will have spent around $750,000 on stabilizing the home. Some of that money came from state grants given to the association in 2012 to save the property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's also a city landmark.

Some but not much work has been done to the plaster walls and ceilings inside the stately home. Since the house was built in 1867, its interior has remained essentially unchanged, though a bit ravaged.

A few things, like a craftsman's cabinet built into a wall, were added, as were plumbing, electricity and two bathrooms — one upstairs and one down, both at the end of hallways.

The house, though, is not livable at the moment — there's no water and only a little electricity to aid the stabilization work.

"Someone would still have to do plumbing, electricity, plaster work, painting," Garza said.

The landmark home has six rooms counting the bathroom on the first floor and five upstairs, including the maid's chambers. It also boasts a full basement, a nice attic and a cool cupola.

People last lived in the Solon House — when built, it was on the south edge of the city — in the late 1980s. After that, homeless people sheltered there, sleeping under the porch and inside.

A sign in the kitchen informs readers that the homeless caused smoke damage after starting a fire in the kitchen stove.

The kitchen needs a lot of work as do most of the first-floor rooms, so elegant with their 11-foot ceilings.

Among other nice features: a food warmer built into the radiator between the kitchen and dining room, a plaster ceiling medallion in the formal parlor and the tall arched windows.

Conversations among PACA directors about the fate of the house, one of just a few Italianate buildings left in C-U, are ongoing.

The association has spoken with a couple of potential buyers but does not want to turn over the Solon House to just anybody, Garza said. PACA's covenants would forbid changes on the exterior, including the 6-foot tall windows, as well as any "weird, funky additions," Garza said.

Instead of selling, PACA could retain ownership of the Solon House and transform it into a museum, conference center or other public-use venue. However, that would require accessibility work.

"There are discussions and we are considering the options," Garza said. "It's still so far in the future because so much needs to be done. There's no urgency. We feel we have time."

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kebaugm wrote on February 05, 2015 at 11:02 am

Jim and John Solon were lawyers  in the Robeson Bldg. Great friends. They would be pleased. They owned much land in Pesotum Township where one of my dear friends farmed, Rapheal Kleiss.

auntsonyas wrote on February 07, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Meanwhile . . . the kids at Edison next door are attending classes in hallways and stairwells. While you're taking your time considering "public-use venues" why not lease it to the school district so some good can finally come of it? That renovation was paid for by the taxpayers, after all. 

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