Along Route 66 in Joliet just north of downtown sits a small architectural gem, the KSKJ Building at 351 N. Chicago St. Built in 1939 as the headquarters of this Slovenian insurance and fraternal organization, it’s one of the very few Art Deco buildings in Joliet. It was designed by a local architect, Charles Wallace, and was repurposed into a day care facility after KSKJ left for a newer, blander headquarters building on the far west side of town. Now the Vilaseca Day Care Center, run in the building by Hispanic nuns since 1981, is in danger of shutting down — which also raises the question of what will happen to the historic building if the day care program collapses due to insufficient funding.
The Joliet Herald-News reported last week that the center is in deep trouble. The nuns are reaching out to the Hispanic community, their primary constituents as Slovenian Row hasn’t been Slovenian for at least 40 years. The Diocese of Joliet has helped out the nuns before, but it doesn’t own the building: the nuns were able to purchase it with a loan and moved their program over from Herkimer Street, where it had been operating since 1974. Right now, the child care programs operate on the first floor of the building, and the nuns, who live there, occupy the upper floors.
The problem, of course, is the economy. The Great Recession is still hurting many in Joliet, and every time a parent with children at Vilaseca loses a job, the center loses some of its enrollees. That’s not a problem that can be easily solved. The center is operating on the edge at the moment, solvent whenever someone catches up with their enrollment fees. Without an angel donor or two, the program may have to shut its doors by March. And then the community will lose an important resource. Perhaps there are Route 66 roadies out there who’d like to help?
The building isn’t a local landmark, but it has been beautifully preserved. This writer reported a two-part story for the Herald-News in July of 2012, when the paper was still part of the Sun-Times Media Group. I’d give you a link, but the links have changed and my old one is broken now. The Herald-News is now a Shaw Media publication.