Winnetka’s Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously on June 6 to impose a 60-day delay on the demolition of the Fell building. The former department store building located on Lincoln Avenue has been slated for demolition as part of the One Winnetka project.
The decision was largely symbolic, since it will not delay the timeline for the One Winnetka approval process, or prevent the building from ultimately being demolished.
In March the commission ordered Stonestreet Partners, owner of the Fell property and developer of One Winnetka, to pay for a historic and architectural impact study of the Fell building. The Fell complex was designed by noted architect Walter Sobel of Wilmette for the Fell Company, and constructed between 1967 and 1969.
Lara Ramsey, a historic preservation consultant, was hired by One Winnetka developer David Trandel to create a historic impact study of the Fell building. In her study, Ramsey concluded that “the Fell Company complex is architecturally significant in the Village of Winnetka as the finest post-World-War-II commercial design in the village’s commercial center.” The complex is the only commercial-designed building in the village by Sobel, with a largely intact exterior.
Louise Holland, the commission’s chair, went over the five criteria in determining whether a 60-day delay would be appropriate. The commission concluded that the Fell complex met three of the five criteria in that it is architecturally significant, noting letters from various historical and architectural organizations such as Landmark Illinois and Ramsey’s report supporting that conclusion. The commission also determined that the Fell complex exhibits architectural design of a high quality that has remained unchanged, and the complex also contributes to the architectural interest of the village.
The commission concluded that the Fell complex did not meet two of the criteria. While eligible for landmark status, the building has never received any formal designations. It was also determined that its low-slung modernist style was never a style common to Winnetka.
Richard Sobel, son of architect Walter Sobel, urged the commission to issue a 60-day delay.
“It’s a very important symbolic statement,” he said, noting that Landmarks Illinois wrote a letter earlier that day supporting a 60-day delay. Sobel said he wanted to use the time to explore alternatives and find an appropriate way to recognize the building.
But Trandel asked the commission to look at the property from a commercial perspective, which has been largely vacant since 2007 when the Fell department store closed. “It’s a challenge. It’s not a commercially viable building for retail,” Trandel said.
Commission member Beth Ann Papoutsis said she had deliberated a long time over whether to issue a delay.
“It’s a shame that something hasn’t been done with this property,” Papoutsis said, noting that it was left vacant for so many years. “I don’t want the Landmark Preservation Commission to be viewed as an organization that delays a process when there has been ample time to do something with this property.”
But Papoutsis ultimately voted in support of the 60-day delay, after concluding that the One Winnetka process would not be delayed. Michael D’Onofrio, Winnetka’s community development director, told commission members that the process would continue its course. One Winnetka is expected to be reviewed by the three recommending committees in July, before it goes to the village council for final approval in August, according to D’Onofrio.
While the development seems to be moving forward, Sobel expressed his gratitude to the commission for respecting the village’s process. “This role is very important and I want to thank the members for respecting the ordinance,” he said.
Commission member Chris Enck noted that the 60-day delay will provide time to preserve and honor the legacy of the Fell building.