Exhibit shows ex-Niles mayor Blase’s office
by JASON MEREL
The private office of former Village of Niles mayor Nicholas Blase has been recreated to its heyday as part of an exhibit open at the Niles Historical and Cultural Center, 8970 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Blase was the longest serving mayor in the history of the village, from his election in 1961 to his resignation in 2008 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. He served less than a year in prison.
He was also the subject of “Nick Blase: The Prince of Niles,” written by Niles Historical Society board member and former editor of the Niles Bugle Andrew Schneider. The group is based out of the cultural center and operates the exhibit.
“The history of Niles in the latter half of the 20th century is inseparable from Nick Blase,” Schneider said. “It’s important that people recognize that Niles looks the way it does because of Nick Blase. A lot of people that are in government in Niles are people that worked with and knew Blase. It’s hard to understate the impact he had on the place people call home nowadays.”
Society curator Dan Smaczny said Blase occupied the office at 8074 N. Milwaukee Ave. while he was an attorney from about 1967 to 2009. The exhibit features original artifacts from his private office, including the wood wall paneling and window dressings from that era.
The items were donated to the society by Blase’s family in August of 2020. The exhibit officially opened in March of 2021 but the pandemic has had an affect on how people could safely visit. Currently people need to make an appointment.
Other items include an old office phone and computer, but the exhibit is also full of various personal items that tell their own story about Blase.
As you enter the exhibit, the most noticeable feature is a low filing cabinet topped with several pictures of Blase’s family. His bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame sits above a taller filing cabinet topped with a mix of etched glass awards and various stuffed animals.
The walls are adorned with plaques that were presented by an assortment of service, religious or government organizations throughout his career. His liquor commissioner handbook sits on the desk beside a binder from his time serving as committeeman for the Maine Township Regular Democratic Organization between the 1970s and 1990s.
A newspaper with the headline “Hospital finds music gives patients a shot in the arm” sits on the binder with a note written in the margin above it in all capital letters, “HOW ABOUT THE OFFICE!!!”
“We’re very thankful to the Blase family for donating the contents of the long-time Niles mayor’s office,” Smaczny said. “Having an entire room of artifacts donated to a museum is very rare. It’s like we’ve captured a moment in time of a Niles legend.”
“Obviously, village hall changed several times while he was mayor,” Schneider said. “But that office that he operated out of for 50 years as his private office, it was like the summer office of the White House for Niles.”
Schneider said Blase owned the building and the office next door served as the headquarters for the democratic organization for years. He said a lot of business was conducted out of that office and the exhibit was a great interpretive opportunity to tell Blase’s story.
Museum coordinator Barbara Karawicki said a former village employee visited the exhibit and said he got flashbacks of being in the “hot seat” and having to explain himself to Blase.
Schneider said Blase was known to be tough and ruthless to opponents, but he was also known to be a friendly and inspiring father-figure.
Blase was elected in 1961, replacing 20-year Niles mayor Frank Stankowicz. He served as mayor for 47 years until he resigned in October of 2008, after entering a guilty plea for federal corruption charges. Blase was arrested on his 78th birthday in 2006 for funneling business to an insurance agency in exchange for kickbacks. He was sentenced to more than a year in prison in 2010, of which he served less than a year. Blase died at age 91 June 17, 2019.
During his tenure, Blase led the expansion of Niles to incorporate the Golf Mill Shopping Center into its sales tax base. He also worked to get rid of gambling, prostitution and organized crime, which the village had developed a reputation for by the start of his administration, according to Schneider’s book.
Schneider said the society is reorienting itself to highlight more Niles-specific history, rather than its broader collection of area-specific history and the Blase office exhibit is part of that shift.