In 1909 Peter Kroehler led the campaign to build a YMCA in Naperville, and just fifteen days later Naperville residents had donated $26,260 to build the Y! This exemplifies the spirit of the people of Naperville. In a story repeated across America, the YMCA represents a key time in Naperville’s history, when it was transforming itself from an agricultural community to a small city with businesses and factories. When young men moved from farms and countryside to live and work in Naperville, they would stay at the YMCA.
For over 100 years, the Kroehler YMCA was home to swimming lessons, athletics, and shelter provided by the YMCA. On February 15, 2022, Naperville City Council voted 8-1 against local landmark status for the Kroehler YMCA.
On June 1, 2020, the Kroehler Family YMCA closed operations due to the economic stess of the panademic, "rising costs of maintaining an aging building, and declining membership and program enrollment".
With the knowledge that YMCAs across the country in places such as Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, Los Angeles, and Chicago, had already been converted into productive and profitable new spaces with adaptive reuse, in January, 2021, Naperville Preservation reached out to the owners of the Kroehler Family YMCA with hope for a bold new life for this iconic piece of Naperville. We received no response.
In August, 2021, Naperville Preservation submitted a preliminary National Register Evaluation form to recognize the building, but the application could not proceed because of lack of crucial information such as details about the building’s interior. (The owners would not allow interior access.) The building is already within a National Register Historic District, but it is not designated as a structure of special significance.
On September 24, 2021, Naperville Preservation filed an official application for local landmark designation for the 1910 Kroehler YMCA! The City of Naperville zoning administrator officially notified the property owners which grants them 60 days to respond.
On January 27, 2022, the Historic Preservation Commission reviewed our petition to designate the Kroehler YMCA as a local landmark. They voted 4-1 against recommending approval of the landmark petition for the Kroehler YMCA. Certainly not the outcome we were hoping for, but now we will be preparing to make our case before City Council. Some key points regarding our request for local landmark designation are as follows:
The Kroehler YMCA was built through a robust community effort and dedicated in 1910. It is a testament to how Naperville has always been a community that takes care of its people and is a part of our rich history. Throughout its history it has been a place that brought people together. There are numerous stories of how the activities of the Kroehler YMCA contributed to the growth and well-being of Naperville, helping make it the wonderful community that it is today.
The building is located between two other local designated historical landmarks – Old Nichols Library and the Naperville Woman’s Club. The YMCA, with the others, forms a “Gateway” to the downtown historic center of Naperville, including Grace Presbyterian Church, Saints Peter and Paul Church, North Central College, and Central Park.
Naperville Preservation is not asking that the building be restored to its prior use. Nor are we asking that the entire building be preserved. Even though we have not been permitted to tour the building, we understand that there are significant problems with the original structure and the 1970’s additions.
The adaptive reuse of certain elements of the structure would acknowledge the historical contribution of the building while allowing repurposing of the site. We simply seek to preserve elements of the building that speak to the “Gateway” nature of the building, especially the front (west) façade and portions of the south façade.
Naperville Preservation believes the people of Naperville, whose predecessors paid for the building long ago, should have input into its future even though the building is now privately owned. Since January, 2021 we made sustained efforts to talk with owners, but we were only granted one meeting with them and only after having filed our application designate it a local landmark.
On February 15, 2022, Naperville City Council voted 8-1 against local landmark status for the Kroehler YMCA.
Please read some publicity about the closing and the landmark application:
5/29/20 Chicago Tribune: 109-year-old Kroehler Family YMCA being shut down, another financial victim of the pandemic
8/16/21 NCTV17: Naperville Group Seeks To Preserve Kroehler YMCA Building
9/10/21 Chicago Tribune: Naperville Preservation Inc. plans to pursue local landmark status for the downtown Kroehler Family YMCA after hitting a snag in its efforts to add the 100-year-old building to the National Register of Historic Places
9/30/21 NCTV17: Naperville Preservation Files For Kroehler YMCA Landmark Status
1/11/22 Chicago Tribune: Naperville landmark status sought for Kroehler YMCA
1/28/22 Daily Herald: Kroehler YMCA facility moves closer to sale in downtown Naperville
2/16/22 NCTV17: Naperville City Council Denies Landmark Status for Kroehler YMCA Building
2/17/22 Daily Herald: Kroehler YMCA cleared for demolition, sale after Naperville City Council rejects landmark request