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Thursday, May 3, 2012 02:56 am

Local attorney buys historic depot

Great Western depot to remain open for public

The State Journal-Register has agreed to sell the historic Lincoln Depot to local attorney Jon Gray Noll and his wife Pinky.

“It’s an exciting project,” Pinky Noll said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Pinky Noll said that the couple will establish a law office on the upper level and keep the first floor open to tourists. Formally called the Great Western Depot, the building next to the newspaper's headquarters is known as the place where Abraham Lincoln said goodbye to Springfield in 1861 after being elected president, saying “To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

The National Park Service has staffed the building during tourist season in the summer but has said that it could no longer do so because it is not accessible to the disabled. Pinky Noll said that she has not yet spoken to the Park Service about continuing to provide personnel to show the building to tourists.

“We’re absolutely going to talk to them,” said Pinky Noll, who declined to disclose the purchase price.

The building has been significantly altered, with the second level added after Lincoln’s historic speech. Keeping the first floor open to the public during regular weekday hours for the law office shouldn’t be a problem, Pinky Noll said, and the couple wants to find a way to allow public access on weekends.

Pinky Noll said that she and her husband hope to open the second-floor law office by Thanksgiving. Extensive remodeling will be required, she said.

This is not the Nolls’ first experience with a historic building. The couple lives in a home built by Illinois Gov. Richard Yates at the turn of the 20th century. The house in the Washington Park neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"As you know, our house is ancient,” Pinky Noll said. “I’m comfortable not knowing exactly what needs to be done (to remodel the depot). There aren’t many occasions when a site of such historic significance comes up for sale. It is the kind of space I’m comfortable in.”

Less certain is the future of the State Journal-Register’s main building adjacent to the depot.

Publisher Walt Lafferty announced today that all company operations will be moved to the first floor of the three-story building and the upper two floors will be leased, with the 44,000 square feet on the top two floors being offered for lease when consolidation is complete.

Substantial space in the newspaper’s building near the Sangamon County courthouse on South Ninth Street has opened up since GateHouse Media bought the State Journal-Register in 2007. The press was shut down last year, when printing operations were moved to Peoria, where GateHouse owns the Peoria Journal Star. There have been deep cuts in other departments, with advertising design work shifting overseas and the newsroom’s copy desk due for elimination this summer.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

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