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174-year-old building holds cache of Sycamore’s past

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 12:06 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 12:12 a.m. CDT
(Danielle Guerra –
Sycamore's Phil Cuthbert found the old Ward Hotel sign in the basement of his building at 366 W. State St. Although the glass has been broken out, Cuthbert said he hopes he has found enough of the glass to piece the sign back together. Historical photos show the sign hanging outside the hotel in the late 1800s.
(Danielle Guerra –
Sycamore resident Phil Cuthbert looks at his smartphone while standing next to a desk, seemingly frozen in time with a rotary phone and large typewriter in what used to be the DeMarzio Realty Office. Cuthbert bought the building at the corner of State and California streets in sycamore in November 2012, opening the blinds for the first time in about 25 years he said. He hopes to renovate the building into commercial space again.
(Danielle Guerra –
Phil Cuthbert pulls the letter "S" out of his storage in the back of the building on the corner of State and California streets in Sycamore. This letter and the "C" below were parts of the Sycamore Hardware signage that hung on the building while it housed the business from 1945 to 1963. Cuthbert has found many historical items from the building that he purchased in 2012 and has been working with the Sycamore History Museum to process the artifacts. Cuthbert kept the letters S and C because they were his mother's initials.
(Photo provided by the Sycamore History Museum)
A picture of the Ward Hotel on the corner of State and California streets in Sycamore circa early 1900s. The building was many businesses throughout the years but from 1888 through 1909 was named the Ward Hotel.

SYCAMORE – When Jim Lyon walked into the 174-year-old building at the corner of California and State streets in Sycamore, he found a treasure trove of items from the city’s past.

Lyon, a past president of the Sycamore History Museum, found historical items such as old campaign ads, an old dairy bottle and a chair that could predate the 1941 fire that destroyed the top floor of the building.

“It was like a time capsule,” Lyon said. “Piles and piles and piles of stuff.”

Building owner Phil Cuthbert bought the property at 360 to 366 W. State St. in Sycamore in November 2012 for $130,000 and has plans to restore the former hotel to three units, possibly adding retail space. One of the spaces is currently occupied by Mr. G’s Music Studio, 360 W. State St.

The task is tremendous and won’t be accomplished overnight: Cuthbert said he hopes to finish the work in one to two years.

“This is like a home improvement project on steroids,” Cuthbert said. “I had to be very frugal to fix everything.”

According to Sycamore History Museum, the building was erected in 1840 and was a hotel until 1927, when Fargo Hotel bought the building as an annex. After a 1941 fire at the Ward Opera House at one side of the building, the third story was removed. From 1945 to 1963, the space was occupied by Sycamore Hardware.

Much of the space has been vacant since 1987, when then-owner Phil DiMarzio’s realty office ceased operating there.

Cuthbert could seek financial help from the city of Sycamore to restore the building through the city’s Downtown Facade Improvement Program. The program, in place since 2004, provides a matching grant of up to $5,000 for downtown property owners who want to restore downtown buildings or need assistance with repairs.

Cuthbert has spoken with City Manager Brian Gregory about restoring the old windows at the property, but said he won’t apply for the facade program until he is ready to take on the project.

“Any downtown building owner who needs restoration is eligible,” Gregory said. “It promotes reinvestment in the buildings while maintaining the historic feel and appeal of the district.”

In the meantime, Cuthbert will continue to sift through the pieces of the building’s long history. He still needs to go through the basement and see all of the objects that could be hiding down there.

Cuthbert also must bring the structure into compliance with state and federal building codes before any business can occupy it. He has already met with a building inspector.

“I have a million ideas for this place,” Cuthbert said. “It’s just about having the time, the money and the energy to do it.”

Sycamore resident Dennis Lewis recently peeked into the windows of the building during an afternoon walk.

Lewis, a Sycamore resident since 1966, said something should be done to fill the long-empty space.

“It’d be better than nothing,” Lewis said. “It’d be nice to see something in there.”

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