Saturday, March 16, 2013

115 North Neil Street - Illinois Building

W. Lewis and Co. Department Store #1
Constructed: 1900 (cost $125,000/$3.6 million adj. to 2012)
Owner: Wolf Lewis
Destroyed by fire: March 15, 1915

A view of the newly completed Lewis & Co. Department store at the
southwest corner of Neil Street and Park Street.  This was the first permanent
home for the business with was started by polish immigrant Wolf Lewis in 1879
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

Interior photo of Lewis Department Store circa 1900.
Photo Courtesy of  the Champaign County Historical Museum

This photo was taken around 1915.  Notice the small two store building
that shared the block with the Illinois Building.  This building was destroyed
in the blaze.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

View of the Lewis Department Store shortly before the St. Patrick's Day fire. 



St. Patrick's Day Fire
March 17, 1915 - 6:00 AM

On the morning of Wednesday, March 17, 1915 (St. Patrick's Day) around 6 o'clock in the morning motorman Chas. Dalenburg discovered a fire had begun in the northwest elevator shaft of the Lewis and Co. Department Store.  Within 45 minutes of this discovery, the building, containing over $150,000 ($2.6 million in 2012) worth of merchandise, was reduced to a pile of rubble.  The fire presented impossible challenges for young city and was hampered even more by low water pressure which prohibited a serious effort to stop the blaze.  The fire would spark action to improve this system to match the modern city Champaign was becoming. The fire was, at the time, the worse fire the twin-cities had seen since the 1871 Urbana fire which claimed most of the Downtown area.  This fire would not only claim the Illinois Building but also completely gut the Price/Dallenbach block directly east across Neil Street (buildings were repaired and still remain).   

This photo was taken early in the blaze before the building
collapsed.  The structure stood for only 45 minutes.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

The evening edition of the March 15, 1917 Urbana Courier.

View of Neil Street looking south from Main Street.  The fire
had jumped Neil Street by this time to engulf the Price
Building to the left of the photo.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department

A view of the fire as seen from the convergence of University
Avenue and Chester Street looking west. The City Building
bell tower is seen to the left. Windows were broken in
surrounding buildings due to the intense heat.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department
Fire apparatus were brought from Champaign, Urbana and all surrounding
communities.  A request was sent to Bloomington and Decatur.  A special
Illinois Traction train delivered a truck from Decatur but was never unloaded
since the fire was under control at the time.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department

The crowd gathers on the easten end of the
City Building (Walnut St. in foreground).
You will notice the volunteers stationed on
top of surrounding buildings pouring water
in a effort to limit the spread. (see next photo)
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department
Photo Courtesy of Google


Price Building had only recently been constructed but was
gutted when the fire jumped Neil Street.  The building walls
were saved and the structure still stands today at
110-120 North Neil Street.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department
Photo Courtesy of  Google

Crowds sifting through debris on Park Street.  Note City Building bell tower
in the background.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department

Northern wall (on Park Street) of the first floor remains standing.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department

Final remnants of the Lewis Department Store.  This photo was taken looking
toward the intersection of Neil and Park Street.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department
Ruins of the Illinois Building looking southwest from Neil and Park Street.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

Ruins of the Illinois Building looking southeast from Park
Street.  Note gutted Price Block in distance.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign Fire Department


DECATUR FIRE DEPARTMENT TO ASSISTANCE -- LEWIS AND COMPANY STORE DESTROYED.
Champaign, March 17. -- Fire which for a time threatened the entire business district of Champaign was brought under control at 11 o'clock Wednesday morning, after the flames had destroyed property estimated at $400,000 in value. The loss was well covered by insurance.
Burned To Ground.
The Illinois building, occupied by the WOLFE LEWIS department store, was burned to the ground with a loss estimated to exceed $200,000. The interior of the PRICE block, across the street, was swept by the fire, leaving only the walls standing. The Odd Fellows' temple, a large structure on Neil street, was saved by the firemen after a hard fight.
High winds carried blazing wreckage away from the fire and kept the firemen busy protecting nearby buildings. The Champaign firemen were given efficient aid by the Urbana and Decatur departments.
Started In Basement.
The fire started at 6:30 o'clock Wednesday morning in the basement of the LEWIS store at the southwest corner of Park and Neil streets. A tank of kerosene was kept near the freight elevator shaft and it is thought that spontaneous combustion might have caused the conflagration. When discovered, the flames were beyond control and the four-story structure was soon a mass of ruins.
On the south of the LEWIS store were the Illinois building annex, the FRANK CAMPBELL building and McFADDEN brothers' feed and grocery store. These made but a mouthful for the flames which had begun to assume large proportions.
Leaped Across Neil Street.
The fire then leaped across Neil street to the buildings of the PRICE estate. These were mostly two-story structures, containing small business firms, and they were practically wiped out. The flames burned buildings on both sides of Neil street, Chester to Taylor and Park streets.
Appeals were made in Bloomington, Decatur and Danville for assistance. Danville refused to send aid, but help was immediately dispatched from Bloomington and Decatur. The Decatur department, headed by Chief C. W. DEVORE, was the first to arrive, and it did some efficient work in helping check the flames. The Bloomington department was notified while on its way to turn back for the flames were then under control.
Firemen Overcome.
Practically no one was injured in any way by the fire. Fireman EARL PHIPPS of the local department was overcome in the smoke but he was soon revived.
The Daily Review Decatur Illinois 1915-03-17


W. Lewis and Co. Department Store #2
Constructed Between 1916
Owner: Wolf Lewis

The brand new Illinois Building at W. Lewis and Company
building was completed within a year of the fire.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives



The brand new Illinois Building at W. Lewis and Company
building was completed within a year of the fire.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

In an interesting twist of fate, a faulty light fixture caused another fire in the second floor women's department on Wednesday, March 9, 1932.  However, the new building was equipped with a state of the art sprinkler system which put the fire down immediately causing only minor damage.   

View of the Lewis & Co. main entrance.

View of the Illinois Building looking south down Neil Street
sidewalks.  Note City Building to the left of the photo.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives
1970s view of the Illinois Building looking southwest from
Neil and Taylor Streets.
Photo Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives

Lewis & Company continued to thrive through the 1960s and installed this new
blade sign with their "famous" clock.  The store closed for good in 1977.
1963 Urbana Courier advertisement featuring the new
blade sign.

Current view of the Illinois Building looking south on Neil Street.  The building
is now owned by Busey Bank and houses four floors of various offices.
Photo Courtesy of Google




5 comments:

  1. That's great that you can see a Reliable Plumbing and Heating ad on a building from 1915. I have an old foldable yardstick advertising W. Lewis & Co., I found it on EBay.
    My daughter's first job was in this building. She worked for Connolly Consulting there. It was so cool to go in there again!
    Love this blog...very nice!

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  2. TJ I live at 8 main, and I hear you have some images of this building? Any way I could have a look, or a digital copy of anything? My roomie C. Green owns the building. We love it. Big respect to Downtown Champaign.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can you tell me your email address and I'll see what I can find.

      Delete