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Peoria Riverfront Museum not destined for National Historic Register

The Peoria Riverfront Museum is nearing completion, and we’re starting to get a pretty good picture of what the finished product will look like. In particular, we’re getting a look at the exterior building materials: grey metal building panels. They don’t look quite as sleek in real life as they did on the artist’s renderings that were shared with the public five years ago:

Peoria Riverfront Museum as of May 2012

Photo courtesy of Steven E. Streight.

But read how the building designer describes these exterior panels:

When finished, building designer Bob Frasca envisions the panels “will reflect a shimmer of light across the building’s surface much like light dances across the Illinois River. The site’s exterior design was intended to reach out to embrace the river, harmonizing with the reflective surface of the water; changing by the hour and season. Such connections to our Illinois River are fundamental. The river was the impetus for Peoria’s development and it continues to nurture our community today.”

Here’s the thing: the museum is not on the river, except during a flood. The rest of the time, the Italianate-style Rock Island Depot (aka “River Station”) and the postmodern Riverfront Village stand between the “reflective surface” of the river and the modern-style museum. As a result, it doesn’t really “harmonize” with anything. It’s a building really designed to sit a block east (for better or worse), making it look sharply out of context in its current setting. Where there should be urban density and a mix of uses and styles, there is instead a large, asymmetrical gray box, devoid of ornamentation and aesthetics.

I appreciate the desire of museum promoters to try to drum up excitement for this new building. But one cannot mask with flowery words the banality of the architecture. You’ll recall that this really isn’t what the architects or museum officials had in mind originally. They had to “value engineer” that design into what we’re seeing today because they couldn’t afford the cost of the original plan. Even museum proponents had a hard time covering their disappointment, distracting attention from the outside by insisting we “focus on what we’re gaining” on the inside.

Regrettably, the only surrounding context the museum block does correspond with is the concrete terrace and lower-level parking of Riverfront Village — the most unattractive context designers could have chosen to imitate. There is no inspiring terminal vista for those approaching on Fulton; indeed, no thought at all appears to have been given to the view from this street. For those unlucky enough to approach the building from the south, there is nothing but a large, blank, gray, metal wall leaning over them. On Water Street, passers-by will be greeted with stairs and a parking deck (à la Riverfront Village).

These deficiencies can be largely attributed to the auto-centric focus of the design. The building is designed for motor vehicles either to drop off museum-goers at the front entrance on Washington Street or park in the underground deck and enter the museum from the parking garage via elevator. Hence, not a lot of thought was put into the pedestrian experience around the perimeter of the building. No one is seriously expecting pedestrians to congregate here, so little effort was made to create a place where people would enjoy meeting and hanging out. This is what we call a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Hopefully the inside of the museum will be more attractive.

68 comments to Peoria Riverfront Museum not destined for National Historic Register

  • MW

    Karrie: It sounds like it’s time for you to be a part of the local government instead of just talking about it. I am not saying that in a negative way either. Make it happen!

  • checking for details

    Karrie ran for county board last time around. She did try to make it happen.
    I would guess that you are are also for the $200,000 to be spent to keep the workers’ shoes dry who work at Heartland Partnerships. We have money for that….no crime reduction…so here is my cheer…Rah Rah!!!!!!

  • Karrie E. Alms

    MW: Yes, I did run for office. The most illuminating forum which I attended was the forum held b the NAACP.

    Clyde Gulley came to the microphone to ask a question. My turn to answer first. Clyde’s question was … What is the percentage of contracts awarded to minority contractors by Peoria County each year? And what should that number be?

    Alms: I stated that I did not know what the percentage of contracts awarded to minority contractors by Peoria County each year. And that there should not be a number. We should bring in the minority contractors and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and help them to improve their weaknesses so as many contractors as possible would be able to submit bids.

    My response was met with polite applause.

    Pearson: We all know that doesn’t happen in the real world and that the number needs to higher.

    Her response was met with robust applause.

    After the question and answer period, I approached Clyde and asked him the current percentage. Clyde aksed if I realized that my opponent had not answered the question. I remarked that her response was not lost on me. I again asked Clyde about the current percentag … drumroll … the number is zero.

    The incumbent had been in office more than twenty years and the number was still zero and her leadership was empowering minority contractors in what ways?

    In my opinion … it was not … nevertheless, she was re-elected. And so it goes.

  • Jim Smith

    I’m sort of looking forward to seeing this museum next time I’m in town. Honestly, Peoria was a dud with that big hole in the ground where Washington Square and Bishops once stood. And no amount of riverfront renovation could make it disappear. Now you have something there that could become a worthwhile asset for generations to come – assuming of course you don’t screw it up or mire it down in mediocrity. So far as the structure’s aesthetics are concerned, well… that very well may be something people will debate for many years to come – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; people are still discussing the Picasso on Daley Plaza and the Calder at the Federal Center and debating what the intent was in their shapes. And I’m not saying the museum’s architecture amounts to either of those works, but Peoria needs something to get past its stoic (and quite frankly – boring) business district appearance, bring life back to downtown and fill that huge void left behind after the shopping, entertainment and movie theaters were felled many years ago. A lot of what you’re doing looks good to me: the Warehouse district, the beginnings of an artsy atmosphere on Water Street and an attractive riverfront. This museum looks like a much needed part of that equation.

  • ProudPeorian

    Great observation Jim. The Madison Theater complex should become center for performing arts. The last of Peoria’s Vaudeville days needs to be saved. What a treasure Peoria still has and the owners are talking teardown…come on. With a great location between the Pere Mariott and the 4 Stars and proximity to the Civic Center…I could go on. Peoria has sent many on to Hollywood and to many a great stage.

  • ProudPeorian

    Karrie, hang in there!

  • Karrie E. Alms

    I was in Chicago on Tuesday. I was on the southside around 73rd and St. Lawrence … wow … the neighborhood is intact … the houses maintained … side by side … house after house … my grandfather’s grocery store is there … WOW … very amazing. As I drove around for quite awhile … I felt sadness that in Peoria … we have not preserved our heritage and I am a transplant from California.

    Absolutely, we should try to preserve the Madison … the lack of forsight to preserve our heritage is sickening and profoundly sad.

  • ProudPeorian

    Karrie, I must have passed you as you winged your way to ChiTown. I came home for a family reunion this past weekend and made a point to spend time downtown. It was a bit hot but it was great to be on the riverfront again. I took quite a few pics of the “ugly” museum complex. Viewing the excitement that the Peoria Riverfront Museum offers “the world and positive Peorian’s”, I was in awe (yes awe) to stand on the island on Washington (amidst all of the construction and reconfiguration) and was excited by the detail of the many components of the architecture and all that it will offer. My background is architecture, commercial interior design and city planning. I spent time on the planning dept. staff in city hall during the civic center architectural firm selection process and the Angelo Demetrio’s Downtown vision proposal. It takes time and money, both spent wisely, and great vision, planning, design and management to “conduct the many entities” as the components are constructed and brought on line. Peoria and its environs need to be healthy. The old neighborhoods need to be “taken back” from the selfish thugs and mindless gangs who do not cherish life and civility. The “white flight” from “my” east bluff and the surrounding neighborhoods is fully understandable but the foundation and stability is all but gone. I remember the vibrant Wisconsin/Frye commercial zone (the old 2 story firehouse, the shops, the drug and antique stores and grocery. Then Kroger came in. Wow. I hope and trust that the new Glen Oak School and its amenities drive a rebirth of that once active and safe zone of commercialism. I digress. I’m stuck out of town for now but I reach out on many fronts to support my home and the “Wrong” image that Peoria still has. Read “Peoria Progress” magazine and be proud.

  • Chase Ingersoll

    Michigan Theater had a huge crowd for a Mary Poppins sing along this afternoon. Big crowd. Parking deck is free on Sunday.

    It’s the same era as the Madison, but keep in mind that Peoria being wealthier than Ann Arbor 100 years ago, so the Madison is actually larger and fancier. But today Ann Arbor has the educated population, less than 5% unemployment and other demographics that make the support of not only two screens at the Michigan Theater, but also the two at the State Theater half a block away.

    The difference in the two cities, is most directly related to the following: after WWII Peoria benefited from Caterpilliars growth due to the building of the interstate system. Ann Arbor on the other hand received defense contracts (U of M) for the development of military technology in addition to auto technology development. The result was that Peoria ended up with a blue collar labor force, while Ann Arbor developed an ultra elite science and technology workforce that attracts people and companies from all over the world.

    What I recall much of the conflict in Peoria is that it does not appear to have the economic base of patrons to support the preservation of its past, such as the Madison, much less to fill the required attendance for something like a museum. But it has a comparatively small population of educated, liberal arts elites that are behind the arts and cultural development projects that there is not enou of a private base of support, so they leverage their political and media connections to ram through.

    I don’t think that the sort of class conflict in Peoria is having the result desired by the elites and you are seeing more those who have options, relocate to an area of the country where there are a higher percentage that share their cultural tastes, or to rural areas with limited government services. The result is a sort of brain drain, that puts Peoria on a parallel track with areas suffering urban demise for the last 30 years.

  • anonymous

    Maybe they could put a seismosaurus model or some other dinosaurs outside for the outside surface to reflect. maybe a lifesize Richard Pryor and Dan Fogelberg or Aaron Schock?

  • Karrie E. Alms

    Anonymous … how about a picture of a taxpayer dressed as a ‘Hordasaurus’ as in the taxpayers should not have to give any more taxpayer $ should the museum group come calling for a taxpayer cash bag to fund their annual operating expenses ($3-5M) et al?

    Actually some ‘skins’ or some type of covering featuring famous ‘locals’ or local events that could be changed over time which would overlay the grey building exterior sounds interesting.

  • Scott Brooks-Miller, M.Arch

    Why would any reasonable person think that the new museum would ever be considered for listing in the “National Register of Historic Places.” Peoria will never be known for its preservation ethic as just about every character defining structure that reflected on Peoria’s late 19th and early 20th century character has either ben removed or so modified it doesn’t reflect its historic character.

    After a career spanning thirty plus years in the field of historic preservation I am always embaressed when visiting Peoria, gone are the court house, the library, the Rialto, the Paalce and the Madison theatres. While some celebrate the city hall it is surrounded and dwarfed by a civic center so that it looks like a castle in a snow dome.

    what an ironic subject title that the new museum would not be considered for the national register! The author of the article couldn’t even get the title correct. Good luck Peoria, you swim in your aimless architecture.

  • The Mouse

    Scott, you forgot all the dinosaurs we have preserved INSIDE of City Hall. Inside that building it might as well be 1972.

  • Scott Brooks-Miller, M.Arch

    Dear Mr. Smith, I think that if you translate Peoria into english it will come out as mediocrity. It has been with a great deal of interest that I have read the comments of the “Proud Peorian’s and it reminds of a saying that was prevelant when I was a U.S. Marine. “The Maladay of the Ignorant is that they realize how ignorant they are.” That is applicaable to those in Peoria who claim themselves to be “Preservationists. Peoria has demonstrationed that it is capable of tearing down it’s best and saving the rest. My father always knew he was beating his head against a wall of commonality. Me I just stay away from those who think they can think!

  • ProudPeorian

    Scott Brooks-Miller, Master of Architects…The Madison is still standing and efforts are under way to save and re-purpose the half block where she stands. You are a bitter son. I knew your father. He was a great architect. I knew many in the day and there is always (in every community across this nation) conflict, hurt feelings, envy, anger…we’re human and its a fallen world. Hopefully pride overides the type of anger and vitral you exhibit. Every community and generation makes mistakes and institutes bad decisions. Yes we can grieve over the loss of Peoria’s architectural past and slam the city but what other medium sized city/smsa in the US, let alone one in Illinois, has the construction “action” that the “city of mediocrity” has going on now…and during the past 2-3 years. It’s called progress and sustainability in a very troubled and disfunctional world. Please, wherever you are, stay away and leave your trash at the door of forward thinking. I await you trash.

  • Scott Brooks-Miller, M.Arch

    Dear Proud Peorian; your inability to understand what a Masters in Architecture is and by calling me a “Master of Architects only confirms everything I said about Peoria. Do you really think that your “past 2-3 years” of “progress and sustainability” will ever bring back the architectural treasures that Peoria has lost? I really don’t think so. You say the Madison still exists, does it really exist the way it did 40 years ago, I think not. You say you knew my father, now I know you are not a truth teller for he died disgusted with Peoria and those, who in its demise, who faked their knowledge of architectural history and preservation. Don’t worry about my ever coming back to the bastion of less then common. By the way what does “I await you trash” mean, your a confused person who needs both an education and some profesional help. No wonder you were afraid to sign you name.

  • ProudPeorian

    SB-M, I am educated and have worked in the commercial interior design industry for 35 + years, much of my time in the Peoria area. I know what a “Masters in Architecture” is and what it represents, and have rubbed shoulders with many…many who have retired from the masterful discipline of Architecture and have subsequently passed on. Yes, the many generations of architects, city planners, mayors, developers and lawyers could have done much more to protect and or salvage Peoria’s proud architectural treasures and history. That is why we cannot let the Madison half block share the same fate. No it is not the shining movie palace that we remember (and the Palace, Rialto, Apollo as a whole, and the many other movie palaces who have played the ultimate price and succumbed to past years of “Peoria progress”. Ray Becker could have incorporated the Palace into his block plan but wanted a new progressive face for that island in the middle of downtown. He didn’t quite make it as we all know. I was a close friend of Kenyon and Hackler. I heard the sad stories and witnessed the destruction. It must stop and we must maintain, re-purpose and rebuild the treasures that still exist and tell the Peoria story in a magnificent way before we lose them all. I have artifacts from many of those long gone (the Mayer Hotel, Manual Tech, The Palace, The Jefferson, Bergner’s, The old courthouse and library and others). I walked their lobbies and halls. Miss them all. By the way…I mean’t to say, “I await your trash” because that is what those who left Peoria behind and gave up seem to leave behind, verbal trash. My family hit Peoria from Germany in 1893…I have plenty of history, pride, stories, documentation and family still involved in “my hometown forever, Peoria, IL. USA. Here’s my email:
    I await your reply .

  • Rockpile68

    Wow, what a strange correspondence this turned out to be. I know both of you from the 60s and as one who has lived and loved in and out of Peoria for the past fifty years I have to admit that I am a bit more sympathetic to Scott’s point of view. Peoria has collasped in on itself. How funny to speak of saving a half block of what is left of Peoria, there isn’t much left to save. Not even those who think that they can save it when there is nothing left to save but the fragile egos of those who claim they are educated.