Making the elegance of historical architecture relevant today

Douglas Pope inside the Broadgauge’s storefront windows, a key feature of the building’s adaptive reuse restoration project.

One of Douglas Pope's favorite activities is people-watching at the Broadgauge on the Petersburg square.

"I like to watch folks who haven't been there before walk through that front door," Pope said. "One hundred percent of them just start looking around, and I can see their jaws drop, and I really get a kick out of that."

Pope speaks as a proud parent would of the Broadgauge, an 1872 building that he purchased, restored and operates as a popular restaurant and event space. First-time visitors aren't the only ones who are impressed with the restoration results – Broadgauge was honored in 2022 with Landmarks Illinois' Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse.

"Our award winners demonstrate the impact preservation has in our Illinois communities. It creates inspiring places where people want to live and visit, boosts jobs and economic activity and strengthens local pride," said Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois. "We are proud to bring well-deserved attention to these preservation efforts, and the people who thoughtfully and beautifully preserved our historic places."

Pope is a Petersburg native who moved away for work. He founded the tech company HotPads, and still works for the real estate marketplace firm Zillow. During the pandemic, Pope decided to move back to Petersburg and work remotely and was re-introduced to an old friend.

"I grew up five blocks away from the Broadgauge, and during my childhood I'd walk past and sometimes into it. I've always been drawn to the mezzanine; it's just a really cool, wooden architectural feature," Pope said. "I started looking at old photos of what the Broadgauge had been, the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was a beautiful, stately building."

Pope had a vision, and invested an undisclosed sum of his own money to purchase, restore and prepare the historic Broadgauge building for its current use. He involved local residents Pete Olesen, a now-retired architect, and contractor Steve Ozella, who had previously worked together on several adaptive reuse projects in Petersburg, including the Three Pines Airbnb and the Hand of Fate Brewing Company.

Pope wanted the Broadgauge restoration to be meticulous, impressive and historically accurate. That also meant it was going to be expensive.

"There probably should have been a lot more moments where I said, 'We're going to spend what?' But there weren't too many negative surprises," Pope said. "Every time they hung a chandelier it was the best day for me, because lighting is the jewelry of a building, and once those went up I could really see how elegant and impressive the end result was going to be."

Pope wanted to maximize his investment and decided to temper the restoration cost by applying for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program administered through the U.S. Department of the Interior. The program allows a 20% federal income tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic buildings that are determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be certified historic structures.

In order to qualify for the tax credit, the Broadgauge restoration work had to be reviewed by experts from the State Historic Preservation Office of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who ensured the project met the Secretary of the Interior's stringent standards for rehabilitation.

Pope knew he couldn't meet those standards alone, so he enlisted the help of Stowe Olesen, another Petersburg native and the son of Pete Olesen. Stowe, a Chicago resident, has a background in construction management for the hospitality industry.

"Historic preservation is a laborious process. We went back and forth on a lot of things," Stowe Olesen said. "But from the very beginning, with the building's historic value and what we wanted to do with it, there was no question about the quality that we needed to make it a stunner in Petersburg."

Pope and Stowe Olesen had 1914 architectural prints for the Broadgauge that showed the historic storefront and mezzanine look they desired for the modern restaurant operation. Working with the State Historic Preservation Office, Olesen painstakingly adapted and modified the design to keep things historically accurate while maintaining the building's functionality.

The Broadgauge's storefront windows are the first thing that visitors see when entering the building. The developers had to add an extra set of windows with their own transoms and mullions across the top to maintain historical integrity while still letting in a lot of natural light.

Interior brick was typically not exposed and finished in a historic commercial building, so the Broadgauge developers couldn't paint original, interior brick work. However, due to potential structural issues, the developers were allowed to fill in the opening that existed between the upper ballroom and the ground floor.

Because of financial and time constraints, Pope and Stowe Olesen decided against rebuilding a large Greek-style cornice that adorned the top exterior corner of the original 1872 building.

All of the woodwork was painstakingly restored by James Nardulli from Williamsville, a historic craftsman who worked on the floors, staircase, mezzanine and ornamental mouldings.

"It was always our intent to keep the historic character of the building," Stowe Olesen said. "We wanted people to feel like they were in an updated version of the original building."

The end result pleased the State Historic Preservation Office. Darius Bryjka was the project reviewer from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and he worked with Stowe Olesen to make sure the Broadgauge project met federal historic preservation standards.

"The project was mostly a pleasure to witness because of the high standards of the development and design team," Bryika said. "Most of their choices they made of their own volition, and we didn't have too many additional requirements that led them to change their scope of work. The completed rehabilitation of the Broadgauge looks fantastic. I think it's a great project that the owner, and Petersburg, can be proud of."

Pope is pleased to have the federal tax credit for several reasons.

"It's definitely worth it, and it's also nice to have that stamp of approval by the National Park Service that says 'Yes, this was a historic building built during a historic time that has been restored to that period,' " Pope said.

The Broadgauge has been open for business since 2022, and Pope is already busy with the next stages of development that involve adjacent historic Petersburg-square buildings.

Pope is purchasing the old Veterans of Foreign Wars building to the north that is connected to the Broadgauge. The VFW building will be the new location for the Broadgauge's Talisman Coffee Shop, which will expand its days of operation and add an ice cream and smoothie bar to appeal to more customer age groups. The VFW building will also allow the expansion of kitchen operations to accommodate the large number of special events and weddings held at the Broadgauge.

The Hubbard Building across the alley to the west will feature a second-floor bridal suite to host wedding parties that have been booked at the Broadgauge. Pope is still considering uses for the Hubbard Building's ground floor storefront.

Pope is pleased with the historical accuracy and the thriving restaurant and event space that he has achieved with the Broadgauge. He feels the project pays homage to John Brahm, who built the Broadgauge and other buildings on the Petersburg square.

"Brahm, by legend, was once the richest person in Menard County but later fell on hard times," Pope said. "Brahm invested his entire life savings into Petersburg, and I feel a strong connection to him. I have invested my entire life's savings into Broadgauge to restore it to its original grandeur."

"It is the most challenging thing I have ever done and the riskiest, but things are different now in Petersburg than they were in Brahm's time," Pope said. "It is by far the most supportive business community I have ever been a part of – everyone enjoys each other's success. I know John Brahm would be proud of Petersburg today."

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