Art gallery, residence eyed for old railroad depot building in Paxton

PAXTON — An old brick building situated just west of the railroad that runs through Paxton would be turned into an art gallery and residence if Paxton’s zoning board of appeals signs off on the plans.

The zoning board will consider a zoning variance for the property at 110 E. State St. — commonly known as the old railroad depot building — during a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, in the city council chambers at City Hall, 145 S. Market St.

Kirk and Lisa Lockhart of Onarga are requesting the variance. If it is approved, they plan to buy the 3,942-square-foot building around Sept. 1, then renovate the 140-year-old structure and turn it into an art gallery and their new home. The variance is required because the building is zoned for limited retail use, not residential use.

“We would just like to fix it, bring it back up to living standards, and live there happily ever after,” Kirk Lockhart told the Paxton Record on Monday.

For the past 25 years, the Lockharts have lived in a renovated 22,000-square-foot former grade school in Onarga. Kirk Lockhart said he and his wife expect to sell that property on Sept. 1, around the same time they hope to buy the one in Paxton.

Kirk Lockhart said he and his wife are both history enthusiasts, and that attracted them to the Paxton building.

“We’ve lived here (in Onarga) in an 1867 building for 25 years,” Kirk Lockhart noted. “And we also renovated an 1890s building in Wicker Park in Chicago. So we enjoy history. The depot (in Paxton) has a long history, and I think it really fits our needs. And we really like the community.”

Kirk Lockhart said he and his wife are both longtime artists and have master’s degrees in art. He said the property in Paxton would make for “great studio space” for their artwork.

The 65-year-old Kirk Lockhart, who has worked for about a year at Gilman Healthcare Center, said his wife is a painter, sculptor and graphic designer, while he works with ceramics.

“We had a gallery up in Chicago called Gallery Great Lakes for a number of years in the north tier building on Illinois Street in Chicago,” Kirk Lockhart said. “We ran that for about three years.”

If the Lockharts end up buying the Paxton property, setting up the art gallery will not be the first project on their agenda. First, the Lockharts plan to renovate both the building’s interior and exterior. They are considering renting an apartment in Paxton as those renovations are completed.

“We want to fix it, because it’s deteriorated and is probably an eyesore for the community,” Kirk Lockhart said. “So it’s kind of a longterm plan — maybe a year down the road — before we start working on putting the gallery in ... and get the living area completed.”

The Lockharts have been working with Paxton real estate agent Ron Lenington to close on the purchase of the depot building. The building’s listed price on the Coldwell Banker Lenington Realty website is $45,500.

The property has been owned since 2008 by Edmonton Properties Inc. According to Ford County Supervisor of Assessments Candice Short, Edmonton Properties Inc. owns only the west 15 feet of the building and is leasing the rest — all located on railroad right-of-way — from the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Co.

The property was previously owned by Fern R. Leventhal, Barbara L. Stern and Lauri Jo Leventhal Belfer, who bought it in 1993 for $123,804; and France Broom Co., which bought it from the Paxton Chamber of Commerce in 1981 for $12,000.

The building was used by France Broom Co. until the nearby State Street bridge was removed, Short said.

According to records kept at the Ford County Clerk’s Office, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Co. conveyed the depot building to the chamber of commerce in 1978. As a condition of the conveyance, the chamber agreed to have the building demolished at its own cost within 180 days. Why that never happened remains unclear.


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