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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Edgewater Mansion, Home To Late ‘Word Jazz’ Poet Ken Nordine, At Heart Of Preservation Fight

Preservationists are working to save the mansion that is listed for sale as a redevelopment opportunity.

The Edgewater home of the late jazz poet Ken Nordine is in the middle of a preservation fight.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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EDGEWATER — The last single-family home in the 6100 block of North Kenmore Avenue is a stately mansion designed by famous Chicago architects and owned by late jazz poet Ken Nordine. Now, neighbors are rallying to make sure the home doesn’t soon make way for more medium-or-high rises.

Ken Nordine, a renowned voice actor, radio host and the inventor of “word jazz,” lived with his family in the home at 6106 N. Kenmore Ave. In February, Nordine died at the age of 98.

Credit: Word Jazz
Ken Nordine

His estate has since listed the home, which resides in an area zoned for medium or high-rise residential development. The home’s listing advertises it as a redevelopment opportunity.

The listing also mentions the home as being potentially historic. The Nordine mansion, as preservationists call it, is rated “orange” by the city’s historic survey, meaning it could contain “significant architectural or historical features.” An orange-rated property must see a 90-day delay in demolition so the city can determine if such action is appropriate.

Neighbors and preservationists are now calling on Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) to end the home’s landmark limbo and signal his support for preserving the home.

In an letter to Osterman, the Edgewater Historical Society said the mansion is the “rare and exceptional case where the stars are favorably aligned for landmarking.” They are asking the alderman to publicly support the measure.

“It’s a slam dunk,” said Bob Remer, president of the Edgewater Historical Society. “There’s a lot of history there. We want to honor [Nordine’s] memory and save the place.”

If a demolition permit is applied for, the city’s Landmark Commission would use the 90-day delay to determine if the building is a landmark. To be designated as such, it would have to meet at least two of seven criteria.

It already meets two criteria, Remer said. It is historically significant in that it was designed by Pond & Pond, brothers whose turn-of-the-century firm designed some of the city’s finest examples of the arts & crafts style, including the Jane Addams’ Hull-House, according to the city. The second criteria is that’s its owner was a significant figure, one who hosted popular radio programs and collaborated with artists like David Bowie and the Grateful Dead.

That means the building could likely be saved if it faces the wrecking ball. But preservationists are asking Osterman to signal his support, which would make the bureaucratic process of landmarking less burdensome, Remer said.

“Aldermanic privilege is alive and well when it comes to landmarking,” he said.

Osterman did not respond to a request for comment.

The preservationists are now acting with urgency because the home has a prospective buyer with plans to build more dense housing on the lot, they say.

The home’s listing does mention the home being under contract. Its listing agent said they could not comment on the deal.

Preservationists believe, however, that the buyer would like to demolish the home to make way for new housing. That’s because, according to the preservationists, a prospective buyer who expressed interest in landmarking the building was turned away.

Executives with preservationist group Landmarks Illinois previously told Edgeville Buzz that a buyer they produced had their bid turned away when the sellers learned of their interest in landmarking. Landmarks Illinois also told the local newspaper that the buyer whose bid has been accepted is a developer “who has done past new construction in the neighborhood.”

Losing the home would not only be disservice to the memory of Ken Nordine, it would also be removing the last remaining relic of the block’s historic look, Remer said.

“Allowing the last of the truly unique and lower density properties to be plowed under in the name of ‘progress’ is something that will greatly diminish the value of our community for all,” Remer said in his letter.

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