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Bemis Ford building is history

Illinois agency OKs demolition if conditions met

OREGON – The Bemis Motor Co. building downtown will be demolished to make way for a new bank – if the new building meets certain design requirements, a state agency says.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency decided to allow Harvard State Bank to demolish the building at state Route 2 and Franklin Street to make way for a new bank.

Harvard State owns Community Bank of Oregon, now at Fourth Street and state Route 64. It wants to build a new building for Community Bank.

Anne Haaker, IHPA deputy state historic preservation officer, said the new building must be “architecturally compatible” with the downtown historic district, where the now-vacant Bemis building is located. The Ford auto dealership closed this past summer.

Harvard State Bank President Roger Lehman said Tuesday that Harvard State is buying the Bemis property, owned by Jay Franklin.

“We have a contract to purchase if we can accomplish what we want to,” Lehman said, adding that state approval is just one step in the process.

“We’re only halfway there,” he said. “We still need [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] approval.”

Plans call for the new bank to have a drive-thru window and ample customer parking, Lehman said.

“It should better serve our customers.”

The bank will sell the Community Bank site once plans for the new bank are firmed up, Lehman said.

The FDIC was required to notify the IHPA of the bank’s plan for demolition because the Bemis building is in the historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a letter last week, Haaker notified Lehman of the IHPA’s consent.

The letter said that although the plan does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings” and will constitute an adverse effect on the historic district, the IHPA will allow it.

“This office will accept the adverse effect of the undertaking provided that Harvard State Bank coordinates with our office in the preparation of a memorandum of agreement to mitigate the adverse effect,” the letter read.

Mitigation will include a design that meets the “Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings” and is approved by the IHPA before construction begins.

The IHPA sought comments from businesses and residents on whether the building should be torn down. The bank said it could not proceed with its plans if it was not demolished.

Urban planner Alice Novak, who was hired as a consultant to prepare the national register nomination for the downtown, had said the Bemis building is a significant part of the historic district.

“It was included, even though it’s less than 50 years old because it showed the impressive continuity of how downtown Oregon has been used,” she said.

Most communities do not save buildings from the 1950s and ’60s.

The Bemis Chrysler Dodge dealership on the south side of Oregon is not affiliated with Bemis Motor Co. or the downtown property.

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