Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Bicycle Lion Sculpture
318 S. Third St., Geneva
Fox Valley artist Joseph Gagnepain was looking to make a signature piece for an art show at Chicago’s Beacon Street Art Gallery in 2007.
“I worked a lot with bicycle parts at the time, so I decided to make the piece out of bike parts for the show,” explains Gagnepain. “I had a week to make it.”
He knew he wanted to make a lion, something he hadn’t done before.
Gagnepain started with the base using an old steam table. He added wheels to the bottom so it could roll easily. He then intertwined wheels and gears to imply movement and joints. The lion’s mane was crafted from inner tubes.
“Using the bike parts, I was able to use the front handlebar hubs,” says Gagnepain. “Where the handlebars pivot on the frame I was able to make the head move side to side.” The sculpture was an immediate success.
When Bob Untiedt, owner of Graham’s 318 Coffeehouse and Graham’s Fine Chocolates in Geneva, saw the lion sculpture in Gagnepain’s driveway he thought it would be a hit downtown. The statue has been in front of the coffee shop since 2008.
“Now it’s such a staple in Geneva and I can’t ever move it or take it away from that spot,” says Gagnepain.
The artist has created around 100 sculptures, signs and murals across the suburbs. A map of his work is at artbyjoseph.com.
50 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake
This familiar landmark in downtown Crystal Lake, at Williams and Brink streets, was built in 1910 and named for its original owner, real estate expert Charles L. Teckler.
The structure’s upstairs space was specially designed to hold banquets and large community gatherings. To eliminate structural columns that would divide the space, builders installed iron pillars in the walls. Iron girders support the roof.
The second floor is now known as Old Towne Hall and it still hosts public gatherings. In Teckler’s day it welcomed churches and fraternal organizations, in addition to his real estate office and a dentist, Dr. L.L. Baker. The first floor held retail and office spaces for the likes of North Shore Electric Co., a grocery store and a hat shop.
The exterior is clad in white terra cotta, sourced from Crystal Lake’s American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Co., which also supplied many buildings in Chicago.
In 1965, Leonard and Dorothy Heisler purchased the Teckler Building and moved in their family shoe store, Heisler’s Bootery. Their son, Jim Heisler, now owns the business, and it’s still operating in the same location. In 2016, building owners Jeff and Carol Heisler invested in a major restoration of the old terra cotta work.
113 N. Second St., DeKalb, (815) 758-1215, egyptiantheatre.org
This 1929 art deco building pays homage to the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II with a 20-foot-tall stained-glass window over the marquee, flanked by two large pharaohs. In the lobby visitors can see richly colored plaster walls and pillars entwined with serpents in the main theater.
The outside looks like the gate of a great temple, and the window has a sacred scarab. A sunburst tops the ticket window. The lobby has the original mosaic floor and eight decorated pillars, topped with gold falcon’s wings and 40-foot ceilings. The original double staircase leads to the mezzanine and balcony; a milky, lotus-patterned chandelier commissioned for the building hangs above the landing.
In the 1970s, citizens formed Preserve the Egyptian Theatre (P.E.T.), eventually restoring the stunning movie palace. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Last year, while the theater was closed due to COVID-19, crews finished a massive renovation, modernization and addition. It’s now re-opened to the public with a limited schedule of in-person and virtual events.