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The Mailbag staff was on vacation last week, checking on the wellness of glaciers, bears, moose and bison in the great west. So there was no Mailbag last weekend.

As a result we have a record-breaking 22 items in the 'Bag this week, everything from more information on Big Elmer the fish to a longtime vacant lot in Champaign that may be vacant no more and a sculpture in Urbana that has gone into storage.

Also, an update on a restaurant damaged by fire, the tallest building in Champaign County outside of C-U, electric charging stations on campus, Clock Street and a once-great University of Illinois rival that wisely got out of big-time sports nearly 80 years ago.

Missing sculpture

"Have you heard where the horse sculpture in front of Phillips Recreation Center (in Urbana) has been moved to?"

The Urbana Park District has hosted the piece "Mare and Foal" for many years, said Tim Bartlett, executive director of the park district.

"When I started in March 1992 it was located in the children's playground area at the old Thornburn Recreation Center. When we tore down that building due to structural problems we stored the sculpture offsite and returned it to the site at the new Phillips

Recreation Center," said Bartlett. "The sculpture had a full previous life at Lincoln Square Mall. It was there (indoors) with the other two sculptures — the Whale (formerly at the old Crystal Lake Park pool) and the Bear (lost or location unknown).

"The limestone sculpture has continued to deteriorate, as it has over the many years of being outdoors. Thus, 'Mare and Foal' is the only piece left of the three original pieces at Lincoln Square Mall that we know for sure. Our plan is to have it analyzed by a conservator to determine if it can be repaired."

Bartlett said it was intended as an indoor piece.

"It probably should not have been placed outdoors but, was donated to the UPD well before my time," he said. "We will determine the ultimate outcome after we learn more about any restoration potential of the sculpture and then act accordingly. It is currently being stored at our Hickory Street Storage Facility until further study can be provided."

Incidentally, said Bartlett, "Mare and Foal" has been replaced with a new sculpture, "Big Fish/Little Fish" by Jaci Willis.

"It is located in the same area at the Phillips Recreation Center," he said. "We have received a lot of positive feedback on the new sculpture."

Notable vacant lot

"The treasured vacant lot at North Prospect & West Columbia, Champaign, with the iconic tree in the middle, is up for sale. After decades of careful attention to this property, why have the owners decided to sell now? How is this property zoned — single family, multi- family, or commercial?"

The property at the southwest corner of Prospect and Columbia was owned by Shirley Merryman, who passed away in May 2017. I talked to Mrs. Merryman about the property in 2016.

Here's what she said about the lot at that time: "I inherited it from my parents and my father inherited it from his father, and I don't think it hurts a town to have open spaces. You don't have to have a building on every single blade of grass," she said. "So I have just left it that way. I'm sure I could make some money off it because I pay the taxes on it every year."

So far as she knew, the lot had always been vacant.

"That's just the way it's been. It doesn't bother me at all that it's not being built on," she said. "I intend to leave it and when I'm gone somebody else can do something with it.

The property — which is actually two lots — are on the market for $25,000 apiece. The house to the south also is available, said real estate broker Nick Taylor.

Political signs out of compliance

"Based on your (recent) response about the allowable size of political signs, will Champaign be enforcing their code with the signs popping up around town that are much bigger than permitted? I pass extra large signs every day on Mattis and Green, and have seen them elsewhere as well."

The city of Champaign has given political parties and candidates until Sunday to get their signs into compliance with the city code, said Champaign Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips.

"We had significant compliance and a request for a little more time, since a lot of the signs are put up by volunteer help," he said. "Because we are more interested in compliance than fines, we granted a week's extension. Because of the extension we have not done an official follow-up check yet, but I did notice some big signs had been replaced with smaller, compliant signs when I was out and about over the weekend."

Phillips sent "warning notice extension" letters to the county Democratic and Republican headquarters, asking them to have their out of compliance signs removed by Sunday.

"Signs are regulated by zoning district by the Champaign City Code," he noted in the letter. "Political signs are permitted in residential and business districts in Champaign, but the sizes of these signs are regulated by district. Political signs advertising both parties were found to be in violation" of the code.

Demo leftovers

"With all the demolition going on in Champaign, what happens to the wood and concrete? Is it just filling up the landfill?"

Kelly Dillard, owner of Dig It of Champaign, said that concrete and metal is recycled locally.

"All of the concrete, asphalt, brickblock and all of that is recycled," he said. "It's crushed back into stone and used in building roadways wherever they use stone.

Wood and other building products, for the most part, end up in the landfill, he said.

"And anything that is metal goes to the scrapyard to be recycled," he said.

Tallest building outside of C-U

"Curious, outside of Champaign-Urbana, what is the tallest building in Champaign County? I can't think of anything more than three stories tall."

There's no official list of tallest buildings in rural Champaign County, but my guess is that it's The Andersons grain operation located between Champaign and Mahomet.

Andy Gongwer, the operations manager at the plant, said that grain bins there reach 125 feet and that support structures top out at about 155 feet.

Electric car charging costs

"How much does it cost to charge an electric car plugged in at the University of Illinois parking garage (a range of value/cost depending on battery status when par

king)? These vehicles are allowed free of charge to plug in. Why do they get 'free fuel' and I do not get a gas allowance while paying $660 annual parking fee?"

The level 1 charging areas are free while the level 2 charging stations are $2 an hour, said Marty Paulins, the director of parking at the University of Illinois.

The difference between the two? Level 1 is the charging cord that came with the vehicle plugged into the wall (outlet) in a designated area while the level 2 charger is the actual charging station plugged into the vehicle.

"The approximate cost of a level 1 charging station to operate per year is approximately $6," Paulins said. "It was determined that given the small cost of yearly operations per year that the Parking Department would absorb the cost into its yearly utility costs (less than $100 a year total).

"Electric vehicles are desirable to campus in several respects. They emit no local pollution and are much quieter than conventional cars, so their use enhances the campus environment. They emit less carbon dioxide per mile driven than their conventional gasoline-powered counterparts, 30 to 40 percent less in our electrical grid region. This advantage will become even greater as our regional electric grid continues to become cleaner."

Downtown crosswalk

"The newly installed countdown light in downtown Champaign at Walnut and Main is great, but why wasn't the timing fixed when it was installed? When crossing Walnut, the 'Walk' sign is on for a few seconds, then the 'Don't walk' sign flashes, and then the don't walk sign is solid for at least 20 seconds while the light continues to be green. Shouldn't the 'Don't walk' sign only stop flashing as the light turns yellow, not halfway through the Main Street phase? (Same problem at Main and Randolph, this time when crossing Main.)"

Kris Koester at Champaign Public Works responds: "A review of the timings at Walnut & Main, Neil & Main and Randolph & Main indicate there are some opportunities to increase the walk time by between four and 12 seconds depending on the crosswalk. City staff will be verifying what is possible and implement some changes later this fall. While the changes won't eliminate the solid don't walk at some times of the day, it should reduce the amount of time the don't walk is solid as much as possible."

More on Kaufman's Clear Lake and Big Elmer

"I enjoyed your mailbag response about Kaufman Lake (Aug. 24 and Aug. 31), but what ever happened to Big Elmer?"

Just about the time I received that question, I got a letter from Kathi Harrell of Savoy who explained the story of the big fish at Kaufman's Clear Lake in west Champaign.

"I am here to tell you that 'Big Elmer' was true. I should know. I am the youngest daughter of Wallace Harrell and I grew up at Kaufman's Clear Lake," she wrote.

She said that "big Elmer" was named for a friend of her father, Jack "Elmer" Stinson.

"My dad liked to nickname people that were his buddies. (The fish) did get put into the lake around 1961. I was only 5 or 6 at the time but dad told me he was 79 pounds and he was a Mississippi Flathead.

"I asked him why no pictures of him ever and he told me the night he entered our lives was a stormy night and the old camera at the time would not work," she recalled. "'Slim' Whitney and Lee, my father's helper, and friends now deceased helped dad to unload him. Now as legend has it he was never caught. But I do know that several of the regular customers saw him from time to time.

"And the largest fish ever caught out of there was 66 pounds and was a Mississippi Flathead. Did Elmer lose weight? No, Elmer was never caught and Jim Morris who worked with my father and my mother faithfully for years said they never found him dead along the shore."

More on Jolly Roger glassware

A followup from reader Tim Borbely about a question in the Sept. 7 Mailbag:

"Hey, Tom! Regarding Jolly Roger glassware. A couple of years ago, Krista and I saw some Jolly Roger plates and miscellaneous decorations for sale at Second Hand Rose (in Urbana). When we asked about the glassware, the owner told us that he at one point did have "a ton" of it, and it sold to a single buyer almost immediately. He went on to say that this was by far his most requested item. Apparently we were not the first to ask about it after seeing the other Jolly Roger merchandise."

Maroons-Illini rivalry

"I just discovered that the University of Chicago once had a football program in the Big Ten. With that being said, did U of C and the Fighting Illini have a rivalry between each other?"


Chicago was Illinois' chief rival during much of the time that the Maroons played football in the Big Ten (1896-1939).

Here are a couple local newspaper accounts of the rivalry more than 100 years ago:

1916 — "20,000 people attended the Illinois-Chicago football game at Illinois Field, and the Maroons were the victors, 20-7. The gridiron and the weather were ideal, and the Homecoming crowd was the feature of the day, which made the event one of record-breaking caliber.

1914 — "Each play of the big Illinois-Chicago football game at Illinois Field Saturday will be announced through a megaphone from the upper story of the Gazette Building. The Bell telephone company has run a private wire into the press stand of the field for the exclusive use of this newspaper during the progress of the game. The thousands who will be unable to secure tickets to the field are welcome to this newspaper's service Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is 2 p.m."

The series ended in 1939 with 23 Illinois wins, 17 Chicago wins and four ties.

University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins led Chicago's decision to drop football and wrote about it 15 years later in Sports Illustrated.

Here's a link to his thoughts on his visionary decision ...

"The university believed that it should devote itself to education, research and scholarship. Intercollegiate football has little to-do with any of these things and an institution that is to do well in them will have to concentrate upon them and rid itself of irrelevancies, no matter how attractive or profitable. Football has no place in the kind of institution Chicago aspires to be," he wrote.

And this: "The ancient Athenians were as crazy about sport as modern Americans are. So were the ancient Romans and the Renaissance Italians. So are contemporary Britons and Germans. But we Americans are the only people in human history who ever got sport mixed up with higher education. No other country looks to its universities as a prime source of athletic entertainment. In some other countries university athletic teams are unheard of; in others; like England, the teams are there, but their activities are valued chiefly as affording the opportunity for them and their adherents to assemble in the open air. Anybody who has watched, as I have, 12 university presidents spend half a day solemnly discussing the Rose Bowl agreement, or anybody who has read — as who has not? — portentous discussions of the "decline" of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or Chicago because of the recurring defeats of its football team must realize that we in America are in a different world.

"Maybe it is a better one. But I doubt it. I believe that one of the reasons why we attach such importance to the results of football games is that we have no clear idea of what a college or university is. We can't understand these institutions, even if we have graduated from one; but we can grasp the figures on the scoreboard."

Clock Street

"I noticed they started pulling up the street pavement as part of the Bristol Place redevelopment (in north Champaign). One of those streets was the one-block long Clock St. Wondered if the name had anything to do with the old self-winding clock factory (now the Jostens cap and gown factory) a few block south. Did it go further south at one time? So is Clock Street history?"

We can't be sure but as Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman said, "It seems plausible that Clock Street would have been named for the clock factory which occupied the building where Herff Jones is located today."

The National Self-Winding Clock Co. opened its plant in Champaign in 1905 but went out of business a few years later.

A 1913 Champaign street map shows that Clock Street went three blocks north of Bradley Avenue but not south. It also shows that what had been the site of the National Self-Winding Clock Co. was then the "J.W. Northrup Piano Co."As for Clock Street's future, Blakeman has good news: "Clock Street will continue on as it is slated to be one of the street names used in the new Bristol Park Development. The current street is being removed but a new street network will be reconstructed soon."

Prime tailgating spot

"We attended a tailgate of a friend of a friend's (recently). They had a large RV in the grass lot north of Kirby and west of First Street. They have a space there for the entire season. I was wondering, how does someone acquire a season tailgate pass for that lot? And how much does it cost? I have been looking all over the University's websites and cannot find any information. My husband seems to think it might be for donors only. Any idea?"

Your husband is correct.

"The football parking lot described is Lot 31, and is extremely popular," said Kent Brown, the University of Illinois athletic department associate athletic director for media relations. "It is an area only for donors to the IFund, our annual fund that supports the cost of scholarships for our student-athletes. If someone is interested in joining the IFund, they should contact the UI Athletics Development Office at 217-333-6277."

Illini orange

"Why is it that the Memorial Stadium video screen make Illinois Orange look red? Can't they fix it so orange is actually orange?"

We again go to Kent Brown: "Our shade of Illini orange is very hard to replicate on video. It definitely tends to appear more red on the video screen than in person. Unfortunately, this same issue happens on television sets as well."

Misspelled sign

"I just recently noticed that the Prairieview Road sign at the westbound intersection with Route 150 in Mahomet is misspelled as 'Praireview.' Which entity would fix that — Mahomet, state, or county?"

That's a state sign, and Illinois Department of Transportation Region 3 Engineer Kensil Garnett said it should be fixed by the end of this week.

Water fountain back in commission

"Why is the fountain in front of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center turned o

ff. We love to see that big fountain in action and it's been off most of the summer. I thought they may be conserving water over the break, but surely they would turn it on when the students came back?"

The main pump for the fountain underwent repairs over the last several weeks, said Steve Breitwieser of the UI Facilities & Services department.

But it's back on now, he said.

"Just like last year, workers will assist the University of Illinois Alumni Association with dyeing the fountain orange for Illinois Homecoming in October," Breitweiser added.

C.S. Johnson plant

"The older buildings sitting between Springfield and John that are fenced in on Ke

nwood, were they once or are still factories? Are they now vacant? They'd seem ideal for a future development since this town lacks apartments (sarcasm)."

We've addressed the issue of the old C.S. Johnson plant several times before in the Mailbag. In brief it was the home of a company that made equipment for the manufacture of concrete. It operated from the 1920s to 2002.

The 9-acre site at 502 Kenwood Road is owned by Erwin Goldfarb and apparently is used as warehouse space for Goldfarb's apartment operations in Champaign-Urbana.

Here's a link to more information about C.S. Johnson Co. ... Hotel property

"Since the UI Research Park and the I Hotel and Conference Center are co-owned by UI and a private developer, are real estate taxes assessed and paid on those properties?"

Yes, the property tax bill is paid by Fox/Atkins Development LLC. This year's bill amounted to $251,343 on property assessed at $2.78 million.

Remember, two license plates in Illinois

"Paul Wood's recent Illinois license plate article ( brought a question to mind. For quite some time I've noticed many cars and SUVs that only have a back license plate displayed, and no front license plate. Has the license plate display law changed in Illinois?"

The license plate display law hasn't been changed, said Henry Haupt of the Illinois secretary of state's office. "Section 3-413 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) requires a front and back license plate for all motor vehicles, except the obvious like motorcycles, trailers, etc.," Haupt said.

Skateboards in the road

"As if that blasted pedal pub isn't bad enough I've now been driving behind someone riding a skateboard twice in two weeks. Both were on busy roads too — Neil and Kirby Ave. This can't possibly be legal is it?"

Skateboarders should be treated as pedestrians and as such can't be skating in the middle of the road, said Haupt.

Use of pedestrian crosswalks

"Now that the students are back, can you help me clarify, are pedestrians only to cross at marked crosswalks or are they at free will to cross wherever and whenever they please?"

First, Haupt provided the Illinois statute regarding pedestrians crossing a road other than at a marked crosswalk. It says that pedestrians can cross at a roadway outside a crosswalk, but that they must yield to vehicles on the roadway.

"625 ILCS 5/11-1003) (from Ch. 95 1 / 2, par. 11-1003)

"Sec. 11-1003. Crossing at other than crosswalks.

"(a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

"(b) Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

"(c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.

"(d) No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic-control devices; and, when authorized to cross diagonally, pedestrians shall cross only in accordance with the official traffic-control devices pertaining to such crossing movements.

"(e) Pedestrians with disabilities may cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk where the intersection is physically inaccessible to them but they shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway."

As for the statute specific to crosswalks in school zones, Haupt cited this section of state law:

"(625 ILCS 5/11-1002.5)

"Sec. 11-1002.5. Pedestrians' right-of-way at crosswalks; school zones.

"(a) For the purpose of this Section, "school" has the meaning ascribed to that term in Section 11-605."On a school day when school children are present and so close thereto that a potential hazard exists because of the close proximity of the motorized traffic and when traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

"For the purpose of this Section, a school day shall begin at seven ante meridian and shall conclude at four post meridian.

"This Section shall not be applicable unless appropriate signs are posted in accordance with Section 11-605."

Sitara update

"Any word when Sitara in Urbana (restaurant closed by fire in October 2017) is planning on reopening? It's truly missed."

Work on the exterior wall has been accomplished and the construction efforts are now focused on the interior work, said John Schneider, director of community services for the city of Urbana.

"The owner has indicated that the crew is working diligently on the interior repair/remodeling and they hope to open in the near future," he said.

Old restaurant

"In the late 1970s or early 1980s there was a buffet restaurant on North Mattis Avenue north of the intersection with Bradley Avenue. What was the name of the restaurant and when did it open and close?"

I checked old city directories and found that there was a Bonanza Steakhouse at 1201 N. Mattis from the mid-1970s to about 1983. There also was a Lum's at 1206 N. Mattis.

By 1984 1201 was a Bob's Steaks and Stuff and 1206 was a place called The Mill.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).