Plans for Carle Health Development’s proposed $70 million campus are moving ahead. But before construction starts, let’s remember Lafayette Street as it was for many years.
In December, despite protests, the city council voted to close part of Logan Avenue for the project.
In January, it donated several lots to Carle, including the one at 509 Lafayette St., the site of my dad’s childhood home.
The new Carle medical campus would stretch, roughly, from Robinson Street to Logan Avenue, and from North Street to Madison Square. According to city ordinance, it would require 873 parking spaces.
Dad always loved Lafayette Street, and for good reason.
It was lovely … only two blocks long, running from Gilbert Street to Logan.
During his years there, from 1928 to 1945, It was quiet, tree-lined, and filled with good, caring people who treasured their homes, their families and their neighborhood.
My grandparents divorced in 1928. Dad lived on Lafayette Street with his widowed grandmother, his mother, his aunt, and three bachelor uncles. They shared the six-room first floor of a handsome brick, two-story apartment building.
Another family lived in an identical apartment upstairs.
All things considered, 509 Lafayette St. was a dandy place to live. The apartment was spacious and there was a big brick barn in back.
The sidewalks were brick, the street was brick.
A janitor maintained the building and fired the coal furnace. A woman came in every Monday to do the laundry.
The location couldn’t have been more convenient. Dad could ride his bike downtown in a few minutes.
He walked to Washington School for grades 1-8, then he and his friends walked to Danville High School, from which he graduated in 1942.
Although he missed his father, who lived in Louisville, Ky., Dad had a good childhood, surrounded by adults who adored him.
The family sailed through the Great Depression unscathed; Dad was usually the kid with the new bicycle, new shoes and a new chamois jacket.
His mom was a secretary at Phillips Laundry, his aunt was a bookkeeper at Second National Bank, Uncle Ferd worked in the C & EI Shops, Uncle Maje owned a cigar store, and Uncle Les painted houses … when he was sober.
Decades later, Dad liked to drive down Lafayette Street and up Logan Avenue, and tell me about the neighbors – the Babcocks, the Feldkamps, the Steubes, the Rudas, the Doves, the Coutants, the Dunns. He knew them all. Neighbors were neighbors then, sharing triumphs, tragedies, laughs, life.
Good old Lafayette Street stayed that way for years. But over time, some family homes were cut into apartments or converted into rental property.
Crime grew, deterioration grew. The beautiful building where Dad grew up was allowed to go downhill, and it was finally abandoned.
A decade or so ago, the city spent a hefty sum demolishing it to create the vacant lot that it gave away in January.
I’m keeping my four bricks from 509 Lafayette St. Dad would want me to.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.