Kane County History: Newly-Digitized Footage Documents Construction of St. Charles’ Municipal Building

Kane County History: Newly-Digitized Footage Documents Construction of St. Charles’ Municipal Building

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Tim Kirsininkas, marketing manager for the St. Charles History Museum. Images are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.

In an exciting recent discovery, the St. Charles History Museum has uncovered never-before seen footage of St. Charles’ prized landmark, the Municipal Building, being constructed from start to finish, as well as the opening and dedication ceremony on Sept. 1, 1940.

The reel also features shots of community philanthropists Lester and Dellora Norris and Col. Edward J. Baker admiring their work from across the river in the penthouse of Hotel Baker. The families donated the land and funds necessary to build the building.

The original film reel had been buried in the depths of the museum archive in a box of other 8mm and 35mm film reels, and was sent to be digitized.

The museum previously had no way to view these film reels, but through new technology we are able to send these reels to be preserved by Tim Frakes, a local film producer who specializes in the digitization of old films.

Ground was broken for the Municipal Building in August of 1938, and the building was designed by local architect Harold Zook.

Workers hoist a block of the building’s signature white Georgian marble to the top of the Municipal Building’s clock tower during construction in the late 1930s.

Baker requested that the building reflect the community’s pride in a simple, but purposeful and impactful way, and Zook’s design featuring eye-catching white Georgian marble and beautiful guiding lines and cutbacks in the Art Moderne style was chosen out of many applicants.

The Baker and Norris families coordinated with longtime seven-term Mayor Ival G. Langum to ensure a swift, timely and effective construction, with the building opening just two years after the first beams were laid.

When the building opened to much fanfare in 1940, it was one of the most modern and state-of-the art City Halls in the entire country, including fluorescent lighting (a relativley new technology at the time), stained glass windows, and a clock tower with chimes and illuminated dome.

From L to R: Dellora A. Norris, Col. Edward J. Baker, and Lester J. Norris in the penthouse of Hotel Baker during the opening ceremony of the Municipal Center on Sept. 1, 1940.

The building was one of many contributions of the Baker and Norris families, who spent their entire lives donating and giving back to their city. Much of their money was left to them through the will of John “Bet-a-Million” Gates, the founder of Texaco Oil. Baker was Gates’ brother-in-law, and Dellora Angell Norris Gates’ niece.

Through our ongoing collections organization project, we have been able to find and document many important pieces of St. Charles history, including this cherished footage.

Collections & Exhibitions Manager Amanda Helfers (left) and Executive Director Alison Costanzo review and analyze film reels recently uncovered during the museum’s collections and organization project.

Among other recent finds were film reels documenting the opening ceremony of the original Delnor Hospital (also donated by the Norris family), as well as footage of Baker and Norris family outings, and new footage of Baker’s prized champion trotter horses in action.

The ongoing collections project is a six- to seven-year undertaking to document and record each one of the more than 10,000 items and 15,000 photographs in the museum’s collection to ensure that St. Charles’ history remains accessible to all for generations to come.

The rediscovery of this important film is all part of the St. Charles History Museum’s mission of collecting, preserving, and presenting St. Charles’ rich history. To help support our mission and ensure that items like this can be properly preserved and maintained, consider supporting the museum by becoming a volunteer, becoming a member, or making a financial contribution.

View the film reel in its entirety by clicking this link.

Feature Photo Caption

The Municipal Building during construction in the late 1930s.

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