• TJ Blakeman

102 North Neil Street - Champaign City Building

Updated: Aug 5, 2018



Original Champaign City Building

Constructed:  1889 Architect: Sealy Brown Razed: 1935-36 (Razed)


Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

Before the construction of Champaign's first city hall, Council meetings were held wherever possible.  The council would rotate from place to place but eventually the new building consolidated all city services under one roof (Administration, Police, Fire, and Library).  The building was constructed on an odd piece of land left over when University avenue and Chester Street were cut through. The land was owned by David Bailey who sold the land for $1.00 for the purpose of constructing a city building for an amount, not less than $5,000.

The original City Building sat on the site of the current building at 102 N. Neil Street. The building makes use of the left over land from split of University Avenue and Chester Street. Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

The fire department was located in the eastern most portion of the building. Seen here, two fire apparatus emerging from the stables.

The fire department was located in the eastern most portion of the building. Seen here, two fire apparatus emerging from the stables. Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

Below is another view of the original City Building on the northeast corner of University Avenue and Neil Street.

Another view of the original City Building on the northeast corner of University Avenue and Neil Street. Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

As the type of fire apparatus changed from horse drawn steamers to motorized trucks, upgrades were made to the eastern portions of the building that housed the fire and police departments.

Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign Fire Department

Sometime near the 1930s, the bell tower was removed. The Bell was also moved and its location in now unknown.

Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

By the 1930s the building had began to fall into a state of disrepair. The News-Gazette wrote "Too long have we put up with a building that is a disgrace to the community"

Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

By 1935, the building was being razed to make way for a new City Building, The upgrade was approved by the voters by four to one margin.

Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

On February 20, 1936, the cornerstone to the original building was removed. The stone is currently on display inside the Neil Street entrance of the current city building.  A time capsule was located behind the cornerstone and the contents have been stabilized and preserved.

Mayor Flynn and other city officials observe the opening of the copper time capsule taken from the original City Building. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign.

Champaign City Building

Constructed:  1935-1937 Architect: George Ramey

Initial rendering of the soon to be constructed City Building. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

Local Champaign architect George Ramey was selected to design the new City Building. His design took on a strong art deco influence which was very popular at the time. The building was constructed at a cost of $210,000 ($3.1 million adjusted to 2012 dollars) and was completed October 1937.

View of Neil Street during the City Building construction. Surprisingly, this is the only known photo of the City Building under construction. Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Archives.

A surprising few photos have been found showing the City Building under construction. This image of an Illinois Terminal car making the turn from Main to Neil Street captured the topping out of the City Building tower.

Photo Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

The team of designers and builders posed for one final photo before the opening of the new City Building.  (L-R) First Row: Commissioner James Smith, PWA Engineer Chester Oline, Mayor James D. Flynn, Commissioner Walter Swearingen, Supervising Architect George Ramey, and Commissioner T.E. Bassett. Back Row: Police Chief Roy Argo, General Contractor W.E.C. Kuhne, Commissioner Virgil Burgess, and Electrical Contractor George A. Zirhut.


Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

A plaque commemorating the dedication is located inside the Neil Street lobby.


Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

One of the first images of the completed project demonstrates how precisely the final project matches Ramey's conceptual drawings. The tower portion of the building housed the administrative offices and City Council Chambers while the eastern extension housed the fire department.


Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

This image of the City Council show the original 5th floor Council Chambers.

Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

A view of the University Avenue exits for the fire bays.  Trucks would enter on Chester Street and pull through to exit on University Avenue. The fire fighters lived on the second floor and enjoyed a balcony which can be seen in this photo below.


Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign Fire Department

The building had a number of interesting features including basement jail cells and a firing range for the Police Station. Here, Mayor Flynn inspects the cells at the opening of the City Building.

Mayor James Flynn inspecting the new holding cells in the basement of the City Building. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

This view of the Neil Street entrance provides a glimpse into the strong art deco elements of the building including the doors.

Original Neil Street entrance. Photo Courtesy of Zane Ziegler

The City Building stands out among the red brick of Downtown and uses a blond brick supporting a copper roof. The deep brown copper color has today turned mostly to green. This 1950s Christmas photograph shows the early patina of the City building dome.

The City Building at Christmas time in the 1950s. Photo Courtesy of Karen Olsen

The building has seen several remodels. One came after the Fire Department moved to their new home at Station 1 on Randolph Street. At this time, the Champaign Police Department took control of the east wing and the fire bay doors were bricked in. One door was left in the middle of the building for unloading prisoners. Note, the engraved keystone above the eastern most entrance was re-engraved from "CFD" to "CPD".

The "CFD" over the southeast entrance was converted to "CPD" when the Police Department moved in. Photo Courtesy of City of Champaign.

Police waiting room on the first floor of the City Building. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign.

Another major renovation in the 1970s moved the Council Chambers from the 5th floor to the second floor to accommodate more residents. Note the wood paneling behind the dais moved from the 5th floor to the 2nd floor and today still served as the backdrop to the Mayor in the current Chambers on the first Floor.

Second floor Council Chambers. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign.

In the 1980s the City Building underwent its largest renovation with the addition of a new 3rd floor.

The City Building renovation was designed by local architect Neil Strack. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

Newly remodeled Mayors Office on the second floor of the City Building. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

The building was rededicated on September 11, 1988

The newly renovated City Building was officially dedicated on September 11, 1988. Photo Courtesy of the City of Champaign

Today, the Champaign City Building remains one of the cities most recognizable landmarks housing the Mayor, City Manager Office, Neighborhood Services, Community Relations, Finance, Planning and Development, Human Resources, Information Technologies, and the Legal Department.




The City Building remains one of Champaign's most recognizable and iconic structures. Photo Courtesy of T.J. Blakeman

Photo Credits: Champaign County History Museum, Champaign County Archives at the Urbana Free Library, City of Champaign, Champaign Fire Department, Karen Olsen, and T.J. Blakeman



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