Granite City roof part of a larger project | Wender Mind Kids

Granite City roof part of a larger project

GRANITE CITY – A $4,000 grant from Landmarks Illinois to repair the roof of the Granite City Fire Museum is just part of a much larger plan to renovate the museum and adjacent building.

Landmarks Illinois has provided $24,500 in matched funds for eight statewide conservation projects. A total of $16,000 was awarded to four projects under the Preservation Heritage Fund grant program. These include the grant for the Granite City Fire Museum, built in 1904 and used as the city’s first city hall, police station, and firehouse.

“I’ve lived here for 51 years, including 24 years in the police force, and I knew the museum existed but I’ve never been inside the building,” said Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson. “Larry Zotti (unofficial curator of the museum) is a long-time friend of mine and he was involved, so I got in touch with Larry and told him I’d like to see the building.

“The building is owned by the city, but I knew Larry had taken care of it for many years. I met Larry at the museum and Rick Daily (Granite City Construction and Zoning Administrator) joined me. We toured the building and found it to be a jewel that should be enjoyed by our residents.”

Touring the building, located at 1411 19th St., Parkinson and Daily realized it needed a lot of work.

“It’s such a historic building, not just for Madison County, but for the entire region,” said Parkinson, a police department arson investigator. “Assistance was needed to get the maintenance where it was needed. Much to Larry’s credit, he has invested a lot of money from his own pocket to keep this place going over the years.

“I reached out to Paula Hubbard (Grants Writer for Granite City) and she started looking for grants. The first that came to mind was from Landmarks Illinois.”

The building has a high sentimental value for Zotti, who has been collecting fire department memorabilia since childhood.

“One day in 1991, I was driving by the building after I had just bought an old fire truck and needed a place to park it,” Zotti said.

“I spoke to a gentleman who was a councilman and he said he would see what he could do and that’s how I ended up with the building. The city put some money into it to fix it up, and I’ve been at it since 1992.”

The museum is a collection of vintage fire engines and fire related memorabilia, photos and equipment.

“Over the past 30 years I’ve watched the building deteriorate in certain areas, plus some prior damage to the building next door from a mishap they had,” Zotti said. “There’s still a lot to do, but it was Granite City’s first city hall, police station, and fire station, and it has great historical value.

“It was originally a ‘horse house’ because the building was built before there were motorized fire engines. Behind it were the police. Where the prison used to be, prisoners climbed onto the top bunk and scratched their names on the wall, and they can still be seen there today.”

When Parkinson realized he needed funding to repair the building, things moved quickly. Hubbard said Zotti suggested applying for a grant from Landmarks Illinois.

Hubbard noted that some bids were posted for the repair of the Fire Museum’s roof. Brick facade work needs to be done on the outside of the building, and the older boiler system and HVAC system also need to be replaced.

“Larry and I wrote the grant together, and at the same time Rick Daily used a drone to take photos of the outside of the building,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard added that the city will use other sources, including additional grants from Landmarks Illinois, to provide more funding for the two buildings’ renovations.

“We must continue to seek funds from Landmark Illinois if we want them,” Hubbard said. “We are entitled to certain funds for this particular project. It’s the conservation work that they’re interested in and there are some standards that we have to adhere to.”

“We are using every means available to ensure the building is secure,” Parkinson added. “Water has done a lot of damage so we are considering replacing the entire roof on both buildings. We use grants for these projects. It doesn’t take money from roads that need repairs or curbs that need repairs because we’re doing millions of dollars right now.”

The city administration moved out of the building in 1929 when the current City Hall was built and the entire building became a fire station. The fire station was operational until 1960 when a new station was built.

In addition to the town hall, police station and fire station, the building once housed the council chamber and the city jail.

Zotti’s pride and joy is a 1922 fire truck that Granite City bought brand new.

“I played on it when I was a little boy,” says Zotti, who is 71 years old. “I was able to get it back in 1987, and my father and I restored it for four and a half years just before he died, and it now stands in the engine house in the same place it was when it was delivered in 1922.”

The building next to the Fire Museum, on the other hand, is the former home of an Elks Lodge and a Moose Lodge and has stood empty in recent years.

“We took the idea that this was a legitimate museum for people to enjoy, and we saw an opportunity to buy the building next door to expand,” Parkinson said. “We can host children’s parties there and have a function room for children.

“In the near future we will be looking for funding for this and for funding to expand the fire station into a multi-purpose facility. We’d love to add more memorabilia and maybe add some police-related items as well. We would love to rent it out for fire birthday parties and do civic events there.”

In his research, Hubbard found two possible construction dates – 1904 and 1908 – for the building next to the Fire Museum. In any case, both buildings date from the same period, making them a good candidate for a joint renovation project.

“Until now, no other municipality has been interested in working closely with Larry to restore the museum building,” Hubbard said. “Mayor Parkinson took the initiative to meet with Larry and he was excited about the potential of the building. We only had a week to complete the scholarship, but we made it.”

“No mayor has taken on this project because they didn’t have the money or resources to bring in someone like Paula who can go out and find money that the city’s taxpayers don’t have to pay for,” Parkinson added. “Not only to see the value of what Larry has accomplished over the years, but also to bring someone like Paula to the project and to the city is what the citizens of Granite City need.”

Parkinson added that anyone in the community interested in working on the renovation of the two buildings should call City Hall at 618-452-6214.