Saturday, May 30, 2015

106-108 South Neil Street - Atkinson Monument Company & Price Paint Store

106 South Neil Street - Atkinson Monument Company
Constructed: 1904
Owner/Builder: S.P. Atkinson

108 South Neil Street - Price Paint Store
Constructed:Between 1902 and 1909

Champaign Local Landmark - 2003


106 South Neil Street circa 1990.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Constructed in 1904 at 106 South Neil, the Atkinson Monument Building stands as one of the finest examples or Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in all of Champaign.  


Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the 106 and 108 South
Neil Street Lots in 1902.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the structures at 106 and
108 South 
Neil Street in 1909.
Its detailing and stonework emphasize the craftsmanship Samuel P. Atkinson wished to portray to complement his engraving business. Thanks to extensive restoration work undertaken by current owner Jeff Mellander, this structure will continue to represent a rare piece of architecture and style no longer found in Downtown Champaign.  Although the Atkinson Monument Company no longer exists, many can still remember the days when window shopping revealed the carvings and engravings of handcrafted headstones in the store window.  It is important to note that although 106 and 108 South Neil Street are currently fashioned in Richardsonian Romanesque, only 106 South Neil carries the original façade.  108 South Neil was previously the Price Paint Store.  Mr. Mellander took great steps to match the detailing of the 106 South Neil when reconstructing Price Paint to match.  This leaves us with a single structure, sharing a common interior space.



106 and 108 South Neil Street (center-right) shown here circa 1930s.  

Neil and Walnut Streets Circa 1920.  Atkinson Monument Co and
Price Pain in the center of the photo (Coca-Cola Wall Sign)

A view of Neil Street looking north from Clark Street
 (Atkinson Monument Co is on the left behind the power pole).

Neil Street looking North from Clark Street circa late 1930s.
Atkinson Monument Company is on the lower left.

Lobby of the Atkinson Monument Company.  S.P. Atkinson on the left.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

In 1868 a young 24 year old Civil War veteran names Samuel Peabody Atkinson, ventured from his home in Pataskala Ohio to the small growing community of Champaign Illinois.  It was here that he would teach and farm until 1880 when he joined J.W. Booker to begin a business know as Champaign Marble and Granite Company. (News-Gazette, 12/26/1980)  The company was originally located at the intersections of Hickory, Neil Main and Church Streets in Downtown Champaign.

The Champaign Marble and Granite Company owned by J.W.
Booker and S.P. Atkinson at the intersection of Hickory
and Neil Street (razed for Flat Iron Building)
Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Archives
This location eventually became to cramped for the growing business and it became necessary to look for new accommodations.  Samuel decided on to relocate to a building near the corner of Neil and Chester Streets as a temporary location for his business.  However, Atkinson undertook a project on the request of E.C. Flanigan.  Flanigan had asked Samuel to construct a new building on the location of his former building.  This new structure would forever be known to patrons of the downtown as “The Flat-Iron building”.  This building would be built for the primary purpose of housing the growing Champaign Daily Gazette, today known as the News-Gazette.

The Flat Iron Building (or Gazette) building was constructed
on the former Champaign Marble and Granite Company site at 310 North Neil
in 1901 by S.P. Atkinson.
Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Archives
You find remarkable similarities in this structure and the structure Atkinson would soon build to house his own business.  The Atkinson Monument Company would eventually build their new structure at 106 South Neil.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Lobby of the Atkinson Monument Company.  Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

106 South Neil Street
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

106 South Neil Street storefront.  Note marble column on this building
matches the marble columns on the Flat Iron Building and Downtown
Wishing Well at Neil and Main Street (One Main Plaza)
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Work orders from Atkinson Monument Company
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Work orders from Atkinson Monument Company
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

 The business would operate under Samuel P. Atkinson until his death on April 1, 1937.  Following his death the company was managed by:


  • Emma Schultz Atkinson (wife) 1937-1948
  • Joseph E. Atkinson (son) 1948- 1966.  
  • Mary L VanScheack 1966 - 1981.  
  • Brenda Hopper 1981 - 1988.  
The current owner is Jeff Mellander who purchased the business in 1988 as part of a bankruptcy settlement and attempted to keep the business alive.  However by 1989 the states second oldest monument company would no longer exist. (Courier, 1969)

October 1959 Business Map of Downtown Champaign
Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Interior of Atkinson Monument Company.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander
Walnut Street facade (rear entrance) to 106 and 108 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

View of 106 and 108 South Neil Street circa 1970s.

Interior of Price Paint at 108 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Interior of 106 South Neil Street (Atkinson Monument Company)
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

By 1989 the S.P. Atkinson Monument Company no longer existed and by 1996 the owner Jeff Mellander began renovations of the building along with it's southern neighbor at 108 South Neil (Price Paint Store).  Mr. Mellander would completely restore the building and replicate the stone facade of 106 South Neil at 108.  He would then move the headquarters of his business Precision Graphics to the building.

Walnut Street entrance of 108 South Neil Street - Price Paint
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Interior of Price Paint (108 South Neil) prior to the business closing circa 1980s
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Interior view of Price Paint (108 South Neil Street) prior to renovation circa 1990
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander


106 and 108 South Neil just prior to renovation circa 1990s
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Rendering of new storefront at 108 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

View of the Walnut Street entrance to 106 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Renovation plans for 106 and 108 South Neil Street (Walnut Facades)
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

First Floor renovation plans for 106 South Neil Street (Precision Graphics)
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

Second Floor renovation plans for 106 South Neil Street (Precision Graphics)
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

108 South Neil Street renovation work prior to new stone facade.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander


Second floor of 108 South Neil Street following installation of  the new facade in 1996.  
Precision Graphics CEO and building owner Jeff Mellander in the window opening.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mellander

View of South Neil Street looking south from University Avenue circa 2000.
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

2003 view of 106 and 108 South Neil Street with the City Building in the background.
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Detailed view of the marble column and capital flanking the main
 entrance to 106 South Neil Street
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Detail view of the second floor facade of 106 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Detail view of the second floor facade of 108 South Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Detail view of the original storefront and Frank Lloyd
Wright luxfer, multi-light transoms.
Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

106 and 108 South Neil Street circa 2014.  The Champaign County
Welcome Center is located on the first floor.

Building Description (From the Local Landmark Nomination Form)
by T.J. Blakeman, 2002

Western (Front) Façade-
The western façade of the building fronting onto Neil Street serves as the primary façade and main entrance to the building.  It is this façade that contains the most extensive stonework and detailing.  Starting on the ground level we are immediately drawn to the green marble column on the northwest corner.  This non-fluted, composite column was carved and polished by the Atkinson Monument Company.  Identical columns were found on S.P. Atkinson’s other building in Downtown, the flat-iron located at the corner of Main, Hickory and Neil Street.  This column occupies the chamfered corner which houses the main entrance.  The store windows are oversized plate-glass windows broken by 3 Doric non-fluted columns.  106 South Neil includes Frank Lloyd Wright luxfer, multi-light transoms.  108 South Neil contains a replica of that pattern.  The windows are capped with black cladding to resemble typical storefronts from it original period.  Between the two buildings lies a secondary entrance within another recessed cutaway.  Working upward we notice that the structure is divided up into eight piers.  Five associated with 106 South Neil and 3 associated with 108 South Neil.   These piers travel upward and are broken by two separate capitals.  The first capitals are part of a broken belt course and each capital contains comma shaped carvings.  The second grouping of capitals is part of a Doric style belt course which travels the length of the entire building.   The piers are then topped with a stone coping that runs the entire length of the front façade.  The second floor of the western façade between the cladding and the Doric belt course lies six windows.  The center two windows and the two 2nd floor windows in the Price Building are double hung 2 over 2 windows with 4 lite rounded arch transoms.  The 2 remaining windows flanking the arched windows in 106 South Neil are paired double hung sash windows.  All windows are supported by plain rock-faced lug sills.  The rounded windows are capped with a keystone and voussoir stones.  The paired double-hung windows are capped with rock-faced lintels.  The stone work throughout the entire western façade is limestone rock-faced with margins.  The most notable feature on the western façade is the parapet and upper detailing.  The 2 name block on 106 South Neil is inscribed “Atkinson Building” with a date block between the name blocks on the center pier of the building.  The date on this block is 1904.  The name block on the 108 South Neil is inscribed “Precision Graphics”  The date block for this building reads 1996 and lies on the center pier of the Price Paint portion.  Each name block has 2 rosettes on the centered on the top and bottom of each stone.    

Northern Façade-
The northern façade of the building fronts what used to be Bailey Street and now is used as a municipal alleyway.  This side of the building is not lacking in distinctive architectural features.  The windows are the dominate feature of this façade with oversized fenestration windows with same plain stone lug sill and lintels.  It is revealed that the brickwork on the reminder of the building is common bond variant with 6 stretcher rows per header row.  Looking along the bottom of the building where the walls intersect the road pavement we can see evidence that at one time in the buildings history double rowlock segmental arches were visible perhaps allowing light into the basement.  These window openings are spaced equally and run the length of the building.  Today only the very tops of the former windows are visible today.  Another feature on the northern façade is the pier effect created by a series of 3 external chimneys and 4 internal chimneys.  The 4 internal chimneys extrude out of the façade on the second story and give a corbelled effect. A stone coping runs the entire length of the northern façade and remains at a constant height.  The coping is also accentuated by a crenellated effect which runs the entire length of the wall.  The symmetry of the building begins to fail as you move further east along the alleyway.  Near the northeast corner of the building is a large plate glass window and door that appears to have taken the place of a loading area.  There is now a modern door and handicapped ramp in this area.  The large window is capped with black cladding to match the western (front) façade.  The northeast corner also contains a series of 3 double row-lock segmental arches.  There are also several star tied-in rods.  Overall the northern façade is noticeable formal.  It is assumed that this is because of the former use of Bailey Street as a busier loading area. 

Eastern (Rear) Façade-
This portion of the building fronting Walnut Street once served as a delivery and pick-up area for both Price Paint and Atkinson Monument Company.  The area currently serves as a secondary entrance for Precision Graphics.  Unique features of this façade are the two double row-lock window openings which flank the large area one occupied by a large garage door.  Although the current façade is moved back way from the street the appearance is still given that the façade is in place.  Within this opening is housed the antique lifting mechanism which lifted the heavy granite and stone headstones too and from the delivery trucks.  This system used a network of rails located throughout the building.  There are 5 second story windows on the Atkinson side and 3 second story windows on the Price side.  All windows have the standard plain lug sill and lintel.  The window larger window located on the far left of the Atkinson building was once a door but later converted.  The two flanking windows on the upper floor of the price building are double hung 1 over 1 and flank a large plate-glass window.  The first floor of the Price Building was once used as a secondary entrance like the Atkinson Building.  Photographs revel that at one time both stores displayed their respective names.  Price used a suspended sign and Atkinson used a painted advertisement. 

Southern Façade

The southern façade of the building is partially hidden do to the neighboring one story building.  What can be seen from the street level is a less formal wall that that of the northern façade.  It is reveled from Sandborn Fire Insurance maps that at the time of construction the lot immediate to the south of the buildings was vacant.  We can tell that this wall at one time was used as a billboard for travelers down Neil and Walnut Streets.  There are a number of worn advertisements that still remain on the southern façade. The brick on the southwest corner of the building reveals a quoining effect not seen on the rest of the building.  It would also appear that the Price Building and the neighboring structure do not share a common wall.  There is a stepped parapet with tile coping which wraps the top of the building and proceeds the entire length of the building.  There are several chimneys on the southern façade just as there are on the northern façade.  We find one interior chimney and one exterior chimney. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

117 West Church Street - Russell Building

117 West Church Street - Russell Building (Rialto Theater)
Constructed: 1905
Renovation: 1915 (re-purposed to Theatre Belvoir)
Renovation: 1938 (extensive renovation and restructuring of the theater. Renamed Rialto)

Original Owner:Charlie and Elizabeth Russell
Current Owner: Bill Capel & Ernie Martin




Built as a retail store in 1905 by Charlie and Elizabeth Russell the building was re-purposed in 1915 as the Theatre Belvoir by C.F. Hamilton after his Walker Opera House was torn down to make way for the Hamilton Hotel. The theater was originally a road house; seating somewhere between 850 and 900 with two balconies and a main floor.  The theater saw stage greats Al Jolson, Katherine Cornell, Cornelia Otis Skinner among others perform live.
1887 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map showing the site prior to the Russell Building being constructed.

This 1909 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map shows the building shortly after construction.
 In 1917 Charles C Pyle in partnership with Richard Porter took over the operation of the theater and the name was changed to the Rialto Theater. The Rialto Theater switched from live theater to movies around 1920.
By this 1924 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map, the Store had been converted to the Rialto Theater.

Original Lobby.


By 1921 Pyle had partnered with A.W. Stoolman and Harry McNevin to build the Virginia Theatre at Park and Randolph. The Virginia and Rialto were operated jointly by Pyle and Stoolman until financial difficulties in 1923 when Stoolman filed a lawsuit against Pyle. Pyle lost control of the Rialto and Virginia in 1924 when Stoolman prevailed in the courts.


In 1925 Stoolman decided to not renew his lease for the Rialto space at which time Elizabeth Russell recruited her son Gene to take over the Rialto’s operation. In 1927 Gene Russell installed Movietone and Vitaphone sound equipment and the Rialto introduced Champaign-Urbana to “talkie” motion pictures with the debut of the “Jazz Singer”.


Church Street looking east from Randolph Street February 5, 1936.
This photo is the only photo known to exist showing the original marquee in operation.
Photo Courtesy of the Sholem Family

Gene Russell closed the theater in June of 1938 for extensive renovation. Architect George Ramey (architect of the Champaign City Building) designed the new interior in collaboration with Floyd R. Watson, professor of experimental physics along with air conditioning experts from Chicago. The interior was stripped to bare walls and an entirely new balcony was constructed. Internal bracing was used throughout eliminating sight obstructing support columns. The renovation included a new modern steel and glass marquee and air conditioning.

Champaign Builders Supply delivers concrete to be hand carried into the theater.
Notice the close up detail of the original marquee.  This is likely one of the last
photographs of that marquee before it was replaced.


Seating plan for the original balcony.

Seating plan for the original main level.

Gene Russell, Owner and Operator of the Rialto Theater


Rialto Theater lobby on opening night 1938

Rendering of new Rialto Theatre Marquee
Photo provided by Ernie Martin

The theater reopened on Saturday October 1, 1938 with “Sing You Sinners” starring Bing Crosby.

Opening Night at the new Rialto Theater October 1, 1938

Rialto Theater 1938

Crowds gathering outside the Rialto Theatre to see Dodge City in Technicolor 1939

Crowds line up to see North West Mounted Police 1940

Rialto Theater projection room.

Theater organ located to the left of the screen. Note floral pattern
speaker covers which still exist today.

A 1956 fire in 115 West Church Street claimed the upper floor of the building but
failed to damage the theater.  The second floor of 115 was removed and the ground
floor refurbished.  The building was razed in 2012 to make way for the new
Hyatt Place Hotel.  Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department.
Another view of the 1956 fire at 115 West Church showing the
Russell Building and Robeson Department Store.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department

Intersection of Randolph Street and Church Street looking east from
 the Post Office (William Springer Building) 1968
Rialto Marquee with Robeson's Marquee in the background 1970.

Shops located in the front of the Rialto Theater in 1971


Church Street looking east from Randolph Street 1971


Rialto Marquee and storefront 1978


Gene Russell operated the theatre until his death in 1956 at which time his son, John took over and ran the theatre until December 1978. He leased the theatre to Kerasotes from December 1, 1978 until December 1, 1981. After Kerasotes the theatre was the Gospel Lighthouse until the building was eventually sold to Robeson’s in 1986.

The Gospel Lighthouse occupied the building from 1981 to 1986.
Photo Courtesy of Mike Moran


Upper floors of the Russell building had various tenants including Knights of Pythias, a finance company, art studio and an apartment utilized by the Russell family. Robeson’s leased most of the upper floors of the building starting in 1970.


Russell building following sale to the Robeson family.


Russell building following sale to the Robeson family.

Russell building following sale to the Robeson family.


Russell Building in 2007. Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

In 2008, current owners Bill Capel and Ernie Martin removed the layers of
paint to restore the original brick and limestone.  The process revealed much
of the detail that had been lost.  Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman


Russell Building in 2012.  Photo Courtesy of Google.

Interior of the Rialto Interior Circa 2008
Photo provided by T.J. Blakeman

Interior of the Rialto Interior as seen from the balcony in 2008
Photo provided by T.J. Blakeman

Interior of the Rialto Interior in 2008
Photo provided by T.J. Blakeman

Interior lighting of the Rialto in 2008
Photo provided by T.J. Blakeman


Balcony railing from the Rialto in 2008.  Architect George Ramey used this
same style in the Champaign City Building.
Photo provided by T.J. Blakeman


Today the Russell Building is under the steady care of Bill Capel and Ernie Martin.  Bill operates his photography business out of the space and both continue to maintain the building in good working order.  Many don't realize that behind the somewhat nondescript facade sits the second largest theater in Champaign.  The art deco details are maintained in perfect order, waiting for the right idea to bring the space back to life.  As a quick side note, the 2010 movie Leading Ladies was filed almost entirely in the Rialto.  I've included the trailer so that you can get a quick glimpse inside this beautiful Downtown building.