Museum gets second start after spring fire

Susan Du

Evanston’s Site Plan and Appearance Review committee approved development plans for The Museum of Time and Glass on Nov. 3, breathing new life into a project halted by a major fire earlier this year.

Architect Adam Wilmot said the museum is now slated to open in 2012.

Three years ago, local real estate investor Cameel Halim began construction on the museum, which when complete will showcase stained glass and various timepieces. In the spring, renovations on the site – the former Catholic Woman’s Club of Evanston at 1560 Oak Ave. – were nearly finished when a fire damaged the historic building beyond repair.

No museum pieces were damaged in the fire, but Halim and Wilmot had to start their plans over from scratch.

Wilmot said although the fire gave him more creative freedom in the design process, losing the original house was a tragedy to Halim and his family.

“They had every intention of wanting to restore this house back to its original condition,” Wilmot said. “In the attempt to kind of make the best out of a horrible situation, I suppose you could read that as an opportunity, but not one that they really wanted. If they could have the house back, they would take the house back in a heartbeat.”

Although Halim and his family loved the old house, Wilmot said they immediately continued work on the project, choosing to redesign the building in a completely contemporary style.

Carlos Ruiz, Evanston Preservation Commission liaison, said a more modern design was the proper decision even though the original building was a registered historical landmark.

“Contemporary design should not be discouraged – it’s part of the preservation ordinance,” Ruiz said. “One thing about preservation is that you don’t want buildings to look historic when they’re not. You know, you want buildings to evolve.”

For now, Halim says he remains enthusiastic about the proposed museum, which will house his extensive collection of 14th century stained glass and Chinese clocks dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

“If you look around you, (you’ll) see how important glass is,” he said. “It’s a very important part of our civilization. The same thing with time. Now, when you want to know the time, you just look at your cell phone, and it takes 12 seconds. But the history of (timepieces) just has such a magnificent history.”

Now that the city committee has approved the museum’s plans, construction can proceed, Halim said.

“I really think our collection is just so unique that we wanted to have the public enjoy it,” he said.

Wilmot said although he has experienced some “unique challenges” throughout the process of working on the museum, he has high expectations for its outcome.

“It’s been a lengthy process that we certainly hope has produced a result that the city of Evanston can be very proud of,” he said.

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