GIBSON CITY, Ill. (WCIA) — Some people are working together to help the Burwell Building thrive again in downtown Gibson City.
Moses T. Burwell built the opera hall in 1883 and since then it’s been home to dime stores, furniture stores and even casket sellers. However, it’s the opera hall that people really want to see again.
“I drove by and saw that the building was just sitting there with nothing happening,” said Dawn Klintworth, who works for the non-profit Gibson City Restoration Association. For her, the Burwell building had always stuck out.
Denis Fisher, who has lived in Gibson City since the 70s, agreed.
“It’s been a number of things, and to me, it’s just been an icon.”
The two-story building was a dime store back then. It was the lettering on the facade — which has lasted since the 1880s — that first piqued his curiosity.
“This is a sign that the paint never wears out,” Fisher said. “And then finally somebody told me, oh, that’s not paint. That’s different colored bricks.”
Now the association’s board has voted to bring it back to its former glory.
In the beginning, the opera hall was more of a large room where the city held community events, as opposed to a conventional opera house with visiting baritones, tenors and sopranos. At one point, the upstairs was used as a roller-rink.
With all the building’s history, restorers knew they couldn’t let it sit unused any longer, so they are going to make the building a community pillar once again.
Fisher and Klintworth said they bought the entire building, including everything in it, for $8,000. They were able to sell the stuff inside to recoup their money. The association plans to finish restoring the roof before winter. After that, they will be rebuilding as donations and grants permit.
“I love old buildings. I love history,” Fisher said. “So I just wanted to get involved and help save this iconic building.”