The front gates are seen being worked on on Monday, Oct. 4, at Dominican University on Division Street in River Forest. | Alex Rogals

A restoration project at Dominican University seeks to bring life to an iconic campus landmark.

The River Forest-based university has embarked on a journey to renovate a portion of its main entrance, which includes repairs to four steel gates and the aging limestone columns and walls that hold the bold structure together. The estimated $20,000 project, which kicked off Sept. 20 and is expected to finish by early October, is part of the university’s “renewed focus on the visitor experience” and comes ahead of the university’s centennial anniversary next year, said James DeFily, executive director of operations, buildings and grounds.

Tom Ullsmith, left, and Tim Dunn work on the old front gates on Monday, Oct. 4, at Dominican University on Division Street in River Forest. | Alex Rogals

DeFily said the columns, walls and gates, which rest on the campus’ south end, right on Division Street, have faced wear and tear and are in need of some care. The main entrance was rehabbed about 20 years ago, but that work mostly focused on the ring driveway that leads visitors from Division Street into the campus, he said.

“There was probably some additional wear that the gates had to absorb from all the new asphalting and all the curbs and drainage that were put in,” DeFily said about the makeover in the early 2000s.

DeFily, who spent time sifting through the university’s historic documents, shared further that those beloved gates were first installed in July 1935 and have remained unchanged and untouched over the years. The columns and walls feature the original limestone blocks, dating as far back as the 1920s, DeFily said. 

At this point, workers have already replaced some limestone blocks which had cracked and mended the corner joints. They also installed new pieces of rebar, or reinforcing steel bars, so the columns can continue to hold the heavy gates, DeFily said.

Tim Dunn grinds off the paint and rust from the front gates on Monday, Oct. 4, at Dominican University on Division Street in River Forest. | Alex Rogals

“These gates date back to the World War II era, so that’s really when steel was steel,” he said, adding the historic gates could weigh anywhere between 500 to 800 pounds.

As DeFily reflected on the restoration project, which is near completion, he opened up about what this type of work meant to him and the greater River Forest community.

An Elmwood Park native, DeFily remembered being a boy, riding his bike through Dominican University’s campus. He thought of being greeted by those gates, which felt so big, and the gothic-style buildings that towered over him – and still do today. And it’s an experience that DeFily hopes to share and create for others.

Churches, historic landmarks and institutions such as Dominican University are woven into the community’s fabric, DeFily said.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to walk that fine line of doing the necessary things that we need to bring our campus and our infrastructure up to current standards, to be able to service our students while still preserving the past and our history as best we can,” he said.

Join the discussion on social media!