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Chicago Fire-Era Mansions In River North Saved Again From Demolition — For Now

Preservationists hope to include the buildings in a proposed Near North Side historic district.

These buildings at 42 E. Superior 44-46 E. Superior are part of a preservation battle.
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RIVER NORTH — Two River North mansions that are each over 135 years old have been spared from demolition for a second time — for now.

Just one day before the hold on a demolition permit was set to expire for properties at 42 E. Superior St. and 44-46 E. Superior St. — which had previously been delayed while preservationists could research and evaluate the structures — the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks last week approved a recommendation that the permit be placed on hold once again.

The buildings date back to 1883 and 1872, respectively, and are owned by Symmetry Property Development. Last year, the firm announced plans for a 60-story hotel at the site, but the idea was ultimately rejected by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Instead, in September 2018 contractors for Symmetry applied for demolition permits to raze the two buildings, which currently house multiple businesses. The structures are currently flagged as “orange” by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, which compiles properties of historic and architectural significance throughout the city. Properties that are rated “orange” demonstrate “some architectural feature or historical association that made them potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.”

The permit trigged a city rule that mandates a 90-day delay before any orange property can be razed so that preservationists have time to research and evaluate the buildings.

An attorney for Symmetry spoke last week in opposition of delaying the permit any further, arguing the buildings did not meet landmark criteria, and that old age alone was not enough to deem something worthy of preservation.

Matt Crawford, who produced a report on the property’s history and architecture, disagreed, contending the buildings met multiple criteria for landmark status, such as having value as an example of heritage, exemplary architecture by a significant architect or designer, exemplifying a distinctive theme as a district and that buildings are in good shape.

The two properties are also among a group of 15 homes constructed in the 1870s and 1880s, in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, that architecture historians are asking to be designate a landmark district.

That proposal includes protecting the exteriors of buildings at: 642 N. Dearborn St., 17 E. Erie St., 14 E. Erie St., 110 W. Grand Ave., 671 N. State St., 1 E. Huron St., 9 E. Huron St., 10 E. Huron St., 16 W. Ontario St., 18 W. Ontario St., 212 E. Ontario St., 222 E. Ontario St., 716 N. Rush St., 42 E. Superior St., and 44-46 E. Superior St.

Preservationists noted the Near North Side was among the city’s oldest neighborhoods, being the community of choice for many upper-class families to settle in both before and after the the Fire. Styles include Italianate, typically defined as long and narrow; Second Empire, inspired by Classical-era French buildings; Queen Anne, one of the most popular styles in Chicago for its ornamental, ‘Victorian’ look; as well as those influenced by Romanesque Revival styles and others.

“Although many of the area’s residential buildings are gone, the 15 houses and apartments included in this district, in addition to several other individually designated Chicago Landmarks in the area, are the best remaining examples of late-nineteenth century residential architecture in the Near North Side,” the report states.

Ward Miller, executive director of the nonprofit group Preservation Chicago, has suggested calling the district “McCormickville Landmark District,” after Cyrus McCormick and family, who helped establish the area pre- and post-fire.

Other members of the public who spoke in favor of the landmark designation for the district included Kim Coventry, executive director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, who said she was there to represent both the organization and the man, Richard H. Driehaus. 

However, not all agreed with the plan.

An owner of 9 E. Huron St. said approving the preliminary recommendation for landmark status was “rushed and hasty,” and asked why some, but not all, properties within the boundary were included. He did not want his property among the group.

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who is now a business attorney with Barnes and Thornberg, also testified in opposition of the landmark district while representing the American College of Surgeons on behalf of the property at 212 E. Ontario St.

Ultimately, the commission voted to advance the landmark district recommendation to the next round.
Because the committee approved the landmark recommendation, which included the 42 E. Superior St. and 44-46 E. Superior St. properties, it also then voted to individually delay each of the respective demolition permits that would have become active again the following day, March 8.

However, the future of the two homes, as well as the potential establishment of a Near North Historic District, is far from set.

Commissioners stressed to members of the public at Thursday’s meeting that all parties would still have more opportunities to weigh in on their individual properties, as well as make their case for or against the landmark.

Here are some of the other homes in a proposed landmark district:

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