OLD IRVING PARK — Neighbors in the Old Irving Park neighborhood have rallied around an effort to save a “picturesque” 1890s-era Queen Anne-style home built for John Nuveen, an early 20th Century municipal bondsman and community leader who founded the Nuveen company headquartered Downtown.
The two-story home at 3916 N. Tripp Ave. was built in 1892 for Nuveen, his mother and sister, and they lived for three years. It’s believed to be designed by architect Clarence H. Tabor, who also designed the nearby Charles N. Loucks House at 3926 N. Keeler Ave, which is a Chicago landmark.
The Nuveen home is distinguished by its “prominent corner tower, projecting bays, a large porch and an irregular roofline,” as well as “excellent craftsmanship in traditional materials including millwork and art glass,” according to an architecture historian for the city.
On March 7, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved a preliminary recommendation to designate the property landmark status, but the measure must ultimately pass the full City Council and pass through several more public hearings.
Until then, the home’s neighbors said they’ll keep pushing for its preservation, while an attorney for the property’s owner said the home is in too poor of condition to save.
The house was purchased in July 2018 for $500,000, according to city records. The owner later applied for demolition permits to raze the home, but agreed to at least temporarily withdraw the application after outcry from neighbors, who also sought assistance from Ald. John Arena (45th), said Matt Crawford, a researcher with the city’s landmarks department, during a recent landmarks meeting.
During the 30-day deferral of the permit, neighbors and researchers began to assess the property’s history and condition. Now, they’re asking for the city to designate the home a historic landmark.
In a report on the home submitted to the committee, Crawford argued the house met three of the city’s criteria in landmark designation: its heritage for preserving Irving Park’s history, its architecture and its association with a significant person in Chicago history, John Nuveen. Properties must only meet two of the criteria for consideration.
Howard Kilberg, an attorney for the home’s owner, objected to both the home’s architectural soundness and Nuveen’s legacy.
“John Nuveen was a loan shark, is what he was,” Kilberg said, to chuckles throughout the room. “He did nothing for the city of Chicago. Thee only thing he did for the city of Chicago was put a sign out in left field of Wrigley Field.”
He asked commissioners to table the matter further, at least until Arena was out as alderman.
“I don’t see a reason for further deferral when we have merit to the proposal,” Arena said. “This is an area where there’s a number of beautiful examples of architecture that we are losing.”
According to Kilberg, a structural engineering report commissioned on the home found its foundation to be crumbling, floors sinking, wood rotting and described its overall shape as “dilapidated.” To restore the house to a structurally sound condition would cost an estimated $200,000, he said.
When the commission asked for a copy of the engineering report, Kilberg said he did not have a copy that day, but had provided one to Arena’s office.
Kilberg asserted his client was not out for greed in selling the property, but only wanted to break even on what he paid for the home.
“I don’t disagree it’s a beautiful house, but to restore it would make it non-saleable,” he argued. “We have tried to find ways to save the house, but not at the economic expense of the owner.”
Kilberg said only one person offered to buy the home, but was too afraid to step inside. He said he offered for other leaders in the neighborhood to come by for a tour, but they refused as well.
However, resident Cathey Curley, who is a Nuveen employee, and a contractor she hired, disputed those claims.
According to Curley, she put in an offer of $540,000 — $40,000 more than what the owner paid — before the demo permit was ever applied for, but never received a response.
The man she hired to inspect the home, who is a custom home builder and real estate agent, said he toured the property and found it “definitely needs remodeling, but structurally it’s still good.”
Curley’s intent was to buy the home and restore it back to its original state, as she did with her current home, she said.
Kilberg said he was not aware of that offer, and agreed to negotiate, while also giving his “word” he would not re-apply for demolition permits in the meantime.
Within days, the property was re-listed for sale on real estate websites asking for $575,000 and touting the home’s association with Nuveen.
“This spectacular residence, a typical Chicago Queen Anne, was originally built in the late 1800’s by John Nuveen Sr. who was one of the originators of municipal bonds,” its listing states. “Multiple chimneys, stained-glass windows, decorative gables, steep roof pitches, and endless wrap around porches. The asymmetric design offers endless possibilities.”
Other neighbors of the home, as well as members of nonprofit group Preservation Chicago, also spoke in favor of the preliminary landmark recommendation.
While new housing and developments were crucial to the neighborhood’s future success, restoring a property like the Nuveen home was important to preserving the area’s past, particularly if the building is structurally sound, Arena said.
“When we have an opportunity like this that really helps define Old Irving Park by its nature, then I think it’s our role to work to preserve that,” he added. “I fear if we continue this process and don’t protect Old Irving Park, we’re going to have to re-name it ‘New Irving Park.'”
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