Modernization With a Nod to History

by Laura Nightengale
OSF HealthCare
Above: An artist's rendering of what the building may look like when it becomes the headquarters of OSF HealthCare.

A longtime downtown department store is being brought into the 21st century.

A modern marvel when it was built in 1905, the former site of the Block & Kuhl department store will soon be brought into the 21st century with a nod to its historic roots.

For most of its lifetime, the building at the corner of Adams and Fulton streets was a department store, selling items ranging from Parisian frocks to oriental rugs to car parts, but soon the building will be the headquarters of OSF HealthCare.


The original Schipper & Block building

Known in its heyday as “The Big White Store” and more recently as the former Chase Bank building in downtown Peoria, the former department store will be renovated to modernize the building while preserving its rich history.

“We want to retain as much as we can of the building’s character and historical features,” says Joe Savala, senior vice president of Facilities Management and Construction at OSF HealthCare. “We’re looking to make our 2018 design blend with what was in here in the 1950s.”

The building has been renovated several times in the century-plus it has loomed over downtown Peoria. The original building—known as Schipper & Block until its renaming in 1914—was first expanded in 1911 and again in 1916, the latter to accommodate the addition of elevators.

Multiple modernization projects in the 1950s brought about some of the store’s biggest and most distinctive changes. First was the installation of escalators—such a novelty in 1950 that newspaper articles of the time note the mayor cutting the ribbon to open the “moving electric stairways.” An attached parking garage also constructed at this time opened under similar fanfare, while many of the windows were replaced with white and gold ceramic tiles.


Carson Pirie Scott & Co, ca. 1964

The decades following brought many changes—first to the building’s name when Block & Kuhl was bought by Carson Pirie Scott & Co., and then to its legacy as a downtown department store when Carson’s closed in 1975. The morning edition of the Peoria Journal Star ran an obituary for the “Big White Store,” listing Bergner’s and Sears among its survivors. The building later housed a number of banks and law offices, the most recent tenant being Chase Bank until 2015.

The engineers and architects working on the building’s latest reincarnation envision the exterior of the building looking similar to how it did in the 1950s. Some original decorative and structural fixtures, such as ornate columns and handrails, will be preserved, but nearly everything else inside will be removed to prepare for reconstruction.

“Cleaning up the site, we intend to take all the offices and walls down,” Savala says. “We want to start with the outside walls and the floor plate and go from there.” The final product, funded in part by historical tax credits, will combine historical preservation and modern design.

“Instead of a typical office building where you put offices around the walls, our intent is to avoid putting offices or conference rooms on the exterior walls, so that all Mission Partners can enjoy the daylight. We know they appreciate it,” Savala adds. Interior demolition began this summer, with the project’s expected completion date in the second half of 2020. iBi

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