Press Release 2022.06.02

Old firehouse retains its vibe, says retired assistant chief

By Joe McElroy

The fire pole is gone, but the spirit lives on.

That’s the word from Dennis Adamski, a retired firefighter who served Naperville for 32 years, spending countless hours at 133 West Jefferson. Now Lou Malnati’s Pizzaria, the building served as Naperville’s central fire station from 1954—when it was built—making way for the Chicago-based pizza company’s second suburban store in 1994.

“Whenever I come here, I feel like I’m coming home,” Adamski said at a Saturday, May 21 luncheon sponsored by Naperville Preservation Inc. (NPI). May was Historic Preservation Month throughout the United States, so NPI sponsored several events in its ongoing effort to create more local support for re-using—instead of destroying—well- built older structures.

Of course, converting a firehouse into a restaurant meant significant interior remodeling, but much of the building remains intact, according to Adamski. “Malnati’s has done a good job of keeping the ambience,” he said.

While firefighters no longer slide down poles--“concerns about injuries and liability,” he says—the iconic four garage doors remain in place.

The original water tower in the rear of the building was replaced by a decorative element in the front. When converting an old building to a new use, the best architects figure out how to preserve the spirit of the original design while making necessary changes.

When the building first opened, it housed both the Naperville Fire Department and the Police Department, which occupied the space now used for Chico’s, a women’s clothing store. In fact, Adamski said, the private room where he gave his talk—towards the back of the restaurant on the east side—was where jail cells once stood.

Back in the day, the firefighters’ sleeping quarters and kitchen were upstairs, where offices are now located.

Adamski said the police moved out in the late 1980s. The firefighters followed a few years later, moving to the then new municipal campus on Aurora Avenue.

Naperville’s population was increasing rapidly—from approximately 23,000 in 1970 to 87,000 by 1990—and City leaders knew it was time for a new central fire station as downtown became more crowded, leading to slower response times. As Adamski said, “Minutes are crucial in emergencies.”

So the Naperville Fire Department moved again, just as it had years earlier from its home at 166 West Jefferson, where Apple computer store is today.

“Naperville Preservation Inc. evolved from Save Old Nichols Library,” said Becky Simon, president of both groups. “We don’t think buildings should be frozen in time. We need policies that encourage redevelopment, like the restaurant that’s going into Old Nichols.”