The Granite City roof is 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 one part of a much larger plan to renovate the museum and neighboring building.

Landmarks Illinois has awarded $24,500 in matching funds to eight preservation projects across the state. A total of $16,000 was awarded to four projects under the Heritage Preservation Fund grant program. This includes the grant for the Granite City Fire Museum, which was built in 1904 and used as the first city hall, police station and fire station.

“I lived here for 51 years, 24 of them with the police department, and I knew the museum existed, but I had never been in the building,” Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson said. “Larry Zotti (unofficial curator of the museum) is a longtime friend of mine and he was involved in it, so I contacted Larry and told him I wanted to see the building.

“The city owns the building, but I knew Larry had maintained it for many years. I met Larry at the museum and Rick Daily (Granite City’s building and zoning administrator) accompanied me. We toured the building and saw that it was a gem that our residents should be able to enjoy.

Upon touring the building, which is 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 region as a whole,” said Parkinson, who was an arson investigator for the police department. “It needed support to maintain it where it needed to be. Much to Larry’s credit, he’s put a lot of money out of his own pocket to keep this place going over the years.

“I contacted Paula Hubbard (Grants Writer for Granite City) and she started looking for grants. The first one she found was from Landmarks Illinois.

The building has a lot of sentimental value for Zotti, who has been a collector of fire station memorabilia since he was little.

“I walked past the building one day in 1991 after buying an old fire truck and needed a place to put it,” Zotti said.

“I spoke to a gentleman who was an alderman and he said he would see what he could do, and that’s how I ended up with the building. The city put money on it to upgrade it and I’ve been there since 1992.”

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

“Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen the building deteriorate in some areas, as well as previous damage to the neighboring building with an accident they had,” Zotti said. “There’s a lot to do, but this was Granite City’s first town hall, police station and fire station and it has a lot of historical value.

“Originally it was a ‘horse house’ because the building was built before we had motorized fire trucks. The police department was in the back. Where the prison was, the prisoners climbed up to the top bunk and scrawled their names on the wall, and you can still see them there today.

Once Parkinson realized there was a need for funding to repair the building, things moved quickly. Hubbard said Zotti suggested applying for a grant from Landmarks Illinois.

Hubbard noted that some bids are in the works for repairs to the roof of the fire museum. Brick facade work needs to be done on the exterior of the building and the old boiler system and HVAC system also need to be replaced.

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

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

“We will have to continue to apply for funds from Landmark Illinois if we want them,” Hubbard said. “We are eligible for specific funds for this particular project. It is preservation work that interests them and there are standards that we must meet.

“We are using whatever funds we can to make sure the building is safe,” Parkinson added. “The water caused a lot of damage, so we are considering replacing the entire roof of both buildings. We use grants to carry out these projects. It doesn’t take money out of roads that need to be fixed or curbs that need to be fixed because we’re making millions of dollars out of it right now.

City offices 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 in use until 1960 when a new station was built.

Besides the town hall, the police station and the fire station, the building once housed the town council chamber and the town jail.

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

“I used to play on it when I was a little boy,” said Zotti, who is 71. “I was able to salvage it in 1987 and my father and I restored it for four and a half years just before it passed away, and it is currently in the same location in this engine room as when it was delivered in 1922.”

The building next to the fire museum, meanwhile, is the former home of an Elks Lodge and a Moose Lodge and has remained vacant in recent years.

“We embraced the idea that this was a legitimate museum for people’s enjoyment and saw the opportunity to purchase the building next door to expand it,” Parkinson said. “We can organize children’s parties there and have an event space for children.

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

While researching, Hubbard found two possible construction dates – 1904 and 1908 – for the building next to the fire museum. Either way, the two buildings date from the same era, making them a good candidate for a joint renovation project.

“No other city administration until now had 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 building’s potential. We only had a week to complete the grant, but we were able to.

“No mayor took on this project because they didn’t have the money or the wherewithal to bring in someone like Paula who can go out and find money that the taxpayers of the city don’t have. accountable,” Parkinson added. “Not only seeing the value of what Larry has done over the years, but also bringing someone like Paula into the project and into the city is what the citizens of Granite City need.”

Parkinson added that anyone in the community who wants to work on renovating the two buildings should call City Hall at 618-452-6214.

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