Sunday, November 23, 2003
'Fire barn' hot property
Museum in Aurora is undergoing
$1.5 million restoration
By Hal Dardick, special to the Chicago Tribune
AURORA -- During his 31-year career, retired
Aurora firefighter Glenn Zelensek spent part of five years
living every third day at Aurora's former Central Fire
"It was a fire barn," he said, recalling how cold it could
get in the second-story bunk room, which had no radiators,
especially when some sleepers insisted the windows be kept
open year-round at night.
But that's no longer the case after a painstaking
rehabilitation of the 19th Century building, now home to the
Aurora Regional Fire Museum.
"It's beautiful now in comparison," he said.
The structure at 53 N. Broadway--heralded by the local
newspaper as "a beautiful and commodious" building when it
opened in 1894--long ago fell into disrepair.
The onion dome atop the two-story brick building and three
bay widows on the second floor were removed in the early
1940s. When it the building was shut in 1980, firefighters
took spindles from the staircase banister as souvenirs, said
Fire Museum Curator David Lewis.
Using 200 historic photographs and artifacts, such as the
spindles that are in the museum's collection, the building
was restored carefully over the last 2 1/2 years at a cost
of about $1.54 million.
The initial estimate was about $1 million, but structural
problems and rain damage during construction increased the
cost and delayed completion by two years. The tab was
covered with a $750,000 Illinois FIRST grant, $443,000 in
insurance payments for the damage and $346,000 in city
"It's been a long project, but we're delighted with how it
ended up," Lewis said, adding that all work is expected to
be complete by the building's 109th anniversary on
Six years after the building was closed, city officials
considered allowing it to become a restaurant. That's when
people like Zelensekstarted lobbying City Hall for a
The not-for-profit Aurora Fire Station Preservation Corp.
won the battle, spent $150,000 on the building and opened
the Fire Museum in 1990. Before it closed for renovation,
the museum, which houses antique firefighting equipment and
photographs and articles about local firefighting history,
drew up to 4,000 visitors a year.