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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

As Edgewater Neighbors Fight To Save Late Jazz Poet Ken Nordine’s Mansion, Estate Moves To Demolish It

Neighbors are hoping to save the stately mansion that is the last single-family home on its Edgewater block.

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 — A demolition permit has been filed for the former home of late voice actor and jazz poet Ken Nordine, setting off a city review over whether razing the mansion is the right course of action.

Nordine, a renowned voice actor, radio host and inventor of “word jazz,” lived with his family in the last remaining single-family home in the 6100 block of North Kenmore Avenue. Nordine died early last year, putting the fate of the stately mansion up in the air and sparking a neighbor-led preservation effort.

In late December, Nordine’s estate filed for a demolition permit for the home, city records show. The demolition filing has neighbors worried about the building’s fate.

“We’re hopeful” the home will be saved, said Bob Remer, president of the Edgewater Historical Society. “But we’re not out of the woods yet.”

The Nordine Home, as it is known to neighbors, has been rated “orange” in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, meaning it posses some features or historical associations that make it “potentially significant.” Only buildings labeled “red” are considered more historically significant.

Because of its “orange” status, the demolition permit for the Nordine Home has been given an automatic 90-day delay. The delay allows the city’s Department of Planning and Development to review the teardown request and consider if the building is worth preservation.

The review process will determine if the Nordine House is worthy of city landmark status. Remer and other neighbors think there is a good case for such action.

To be designated a landmark, the home 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 and crafts style, including the Jane Addams’ Hull House, according to the city. The second criteria is its owner was a significant figure, one who hosted popular radio programs and collaborated with artists like David Bowie and the Grateful Dead.

In an email to constituents, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he is monitoring the demolition permit process and is generally in favor of historic preservation.

“I strongly support the preservation of historically significant buildings,” Osterman said in an email.

Remer said Osterman’s words could help their effort. But the historical society is still working to rally neighbors to the cause, he said.

“That was encouraging,” Remer said of the alderman’s comments. “If we can get the community to strongly support it, that makes it easier to help us.”

The Nordine Home is the only remaining single-family home on a block of mid-rise multifamily buildings. The property is zoned for more dense residential development, and some neighbors fear that is what the Nordine estate is seeking to do with the land.

The home was listed for sale last year, and its listing advertised it as a redevelopment property. The listing also mentioned the home’s “orange”-rated historical status.

The home does not appear to be listed for sale anymore. Remer said multiple buyers have been lined up, only to have them fall through for different reasons.

A member of the Nordine estate did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

Losing the home would not only be a disservice to the memory of Nordine, it would also remove 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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