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BLOOMINGTON — The walls of the nearly century-old former Mennonite Hospital are tumbling down.

"We're preparing the site for sale," said Tom Kirk, who owns the building at 807 N. Main St. along with his father and brother, Tim and Mike Kirk. 

The Kirks purchased the property from Electrolux in September 2011. The Swedish appliance manufacturer, which bought The Eureka Co. in 1974 and moved it to the Mennonite site in 2000, later decided to move the corporate offices to North Carolina.

Tom Kirk said there currently isn't a developer interested in the property but razing the building that has sat vacant for about four years will make it ready for a potential sale.

Austin Grammer, economic development coordinator for the city of Bloomington, said "getting it shovel-ready will help." 

But Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Historical Society, said demolishing such structures — rather than considering other options — is not sustainable. 

"Our community's continual willingness to not consider adaptive reuse of existing buildings and our throw-away attitude is not sustainable long term," Koos said. 

He said the fact that Bloomington's decision to allow the blighted property right next to a threatened neighborhood like Franklin Park "is eroding its own tax base."

The original structure was built in 1918 by Dr. George Kelso as part of the Kelso Sanitarium. A year later, the Central Illinois Mennonite churches agreed to establish a sanitarium, hospital and training school in Bloomington and Kelso sold 807 N. Main to the Mennonites in 1920.

The Mennonite Sanitarium Association also took charge of the Kelso Training School with 11 student nurses.

The Mennonite Sanitarium was renamed Mennonite Hospital later that decade.

Several additions were built over the years, and in 1946, a new home for nursing students, eventually named Troyer Hall, was constructed nearby at 804 N. East St. Illinois Wesleyan University brought that building in 2000.

Just as the building was growing, so were the services offered at the hospital. An eye bank was established in 1951; a child care center was started in 1967; and a long-term care unit in 1970. Later that decade, hospice, adult day care and wellness programs were added.

The 1970s also brought a controversial annual event to the site. In 1974, the American Nazi Party started the annual tradition of laying a wreath outside the hospital in honor of party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, who was born at the Kelso Sanitarium in 1918.

At the onset, the event brought a large group which marched up Main Street from downtown Bloomington to the hospital. Numbers started dwindling by the late 1980s and shortly after, no one marked the event.

In 1984, Mennonite Hospital merged with Brokaw Hospital to become BroMenn Healthcare. The Mennonite Hospital emergency room was closed five years later, and the building was renamed BroMenn Lifecare Center, offering such things as long-term care, wellness programs and rehabilitation. Heritage Enterprises took over the long-term care arm of the hospital in 1997 and the Lifecare Center closed its doors.

Grammer said the site is one of the last big sites available for development in the city.

Follow Mary Ann Ford on Twitter: @pg_ford


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