Elmhurst to save 'historical' hospital architecture

ELMHURST – The Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare's newest campus has been recognized as one of the most beautiful hospitals in America, but some Elmhurst residents are more concerned with preserving a design element from the former hospital building.

"[The Elmhurst Hospital cupola] is kind of a landmark here in the city of Elmhurst." said Lee Daniels, an Elmhurst resident and former speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Daniels, who is now Elmhurst College's special assistant to the president for government and community relations, began inquiring about the future of the cupola as demolition began on the hospital's former Berteau Avenue campus.

"Most of my kids have been born there," said Daniels, who also served on the hospital's board of directors until it merged with Edward Hospital & Health Services in July 2013.

Nitti Development plans to build a 56-home subdivision on the former hospital land.

When Daniels discovered there was no existing plan for the cupola, he contacted Mayor Steve Morley and Kevin York, an alderman in the Fourth Ward, where the former hospital site is located.

"It's a historical part of Elmhurst," Morley said of the white architectural design element atop the hospital building.

Morley explained he's called Nitti Development and the developer has agreed to help preserve the cupola. Morley said the first step is devising a way to remove it from the building without damaging it.

"It's a very unique piece," Morley said.

He added that given the age of the cupola, it will need some rehabilitation, but the first priority is to get it down and safely into storage.

Joe Nitti, president of Nitti Development, said his company plans to take the cupola down in one piece within the next few weeks.

Nitti said he realizes many people in the community were born at the former hospital building and has heard from many in Elmhurst about how much the cupola means to them.

"For us to take it down and give it to the city is our pleasure," Nitti said.

Since word has spread that city officials are interested in saving the cupola, Morley said City Hall has received many calls and offers to help. Discussions have involved possibly having York High School students restore the cupola and a variety of locations where it could be housed permanently, but Morley said there is no final plan as of yet.

"It's become a community effort," Daniels said.

Although Elmhurst Memorial no longer owns the building that is being demolished on Berteau Avenue, the hospital has been involved in discussions on the cupola.

“We’ve talked to the mayor and will continue to have a dialogue on this," said a statement issued by the hospital.

Daniels describes the cupola as a beacon in Elmhurst that holds many memories for those who were born or had family members born in the former hospital building. To him it's more than a piece of architecture.

"It represents all that is good about Elmhurst," Daniels said.