CITY HALL — Chicago’s Near North Side is home to some of the oldest and most expensive homes in Chicago.
Now, in an effort to preserve the neighborhood’s oldest homes, the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks wants to create a new landmark district comprised of 15 homes in the neighborhood. But some owners are crying foul, saying that the city shouldn’t restrict their ability to develop or change their properties.
The non-contiguous buildings being considered for the landmark district were built between 1871 — the year after the Great Chicago Fire — and 1923, in an area bound by Chicago Avenue on the north, Grand Avenue on the south, LaSalle Street on the west and Fairbanks Court on the east. Commission leaders, who count business mogul, philanthropist and architecture enthusiast Richard Driehaus as an ally on this issue, believe the buildings should be given historic landmark status, arguing that they are the last remnants of Chicago’s gilded age and must be preserved.
A building owned by Driehaus, at 17 E. Erie St., would be among those landmarked. Across the street to the east is the Samuel Nickerson House, 40 E. Erie St., which now houses the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, a designated Chicago landmark.
In a letter to the commission, Driehaus said that he passionately supported the landmark district. So much of the neighborhood’s historic fabric has already been lost, he wrote.
“Too many places today are devoid of the uniqueness that lends itself to memory because we have failed as a society to thoughtfully preserve the places that we have inherited and to create new ones that resonate emotionally,” he wrote.
But other property owners that would be affected by the landmarking said they should have the right to develop their properties as other nearby owners have — something landmark status would prohibit.
‘I can’t believe they are tearing that down’
Last week, neighbors testified on the issue in front of Michael Gaynor, Chicago’s supervising corporation counsel; Dijana Cuvalo, architect with the city’s Department of Planning and Development; and Rafael Leon, chair of the Commission on Historic Landmarks.
The city proposed the landmark district after receiving a permit application to demolish three buildings at 42, 44 and 46 E. Superior St. in September 2018. The application was subject to the city’s 90-day hold, which was extended by an additional 90 days after a request by the Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division, Cuvalo said.
At the time, the owner of the three buildings on Superior Street was in talks with a developer who planned to build a 60-story tower on the site. That plan currently is in limbo, according to Chris Carley, a friend of the owner who testified to the commission on his behalf.
Cuvalo said the department then evaluated the buildings on Superior Street during the demolition hold for possible designation.
“Rather than deal with these three buildings in an ad-hoc fashion, it became clear that a holistic approach was needed for singular, historic residential buildings in the near north side from the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” Cuvalo said
All 15 of the buildings were originally homes, but several now house businesses. A building at 1 E. Huron St. houses a hair salon on the first floor, fitness studio on the second floor, and a residential apartment on the third floor.
Half of the buildings under consideration were built in the decade after the 1871 Fire and are Italianate in style. Italianate style, which is loosely based on traditional Italian country architecture, was the most popular architectural style in Chicago during the 1870s, according to a report commissioned by landmark district supporters. Other buildings under consideration are examples of Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival and Colonial Revival architectural styles, all of importance to the history of Chicago architecture, according to the report.
But not all neighbors agree an old building equates to one that is historically valuable. Cindi Tyler, who owns the three-story building at 1 E. Huron St. built around 1880, said she does not consider it architecturally significant. Designating it as a historic landmark will prevent her from making money on the property, she said.
“I bought it as an investment 23 years ago,” Tyler said. If the proposal is ultimately passed, “I’d never be able to sell to a developer. I’m on a corner of State and Huron where [other buildings have] already been developed. I’ll never be able to sell it as a development which has always been my intention.”
John Connellan, who owns a 4-story brownstone at 716 N. Rush St. that was built in 1883 and designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, also opposes the city’s move to landmark the area.
Many people take photos outside his lovely brownstone, he said, but that doesn’t pay his property taxes, which doubled this year.
“I bought the building to have something for my retirement,” Connellan said.
Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy with Landmarks Illinois, said buildings like Tyler’s and Connellan’s “are fast disappearing as high-rise development spans the entire Near North Side.” They need to be preserved, she said.
“The buildings selected here are representative of the beautiful and elegant residential architecture that lined these streets over 100 years ago. Put simply, the buildings proposed for inclusion in the historic district are survivors,” DiChiera said.
Julie Sawicki of Ukrainian Village agreed with DiChiera and also testified in favor of the proposal.
“Anybody that’s ever been to Europe or other countries, you’re always touring and looking at stuff that is old because it tells a story and represents a history,” Sawicki said. “Here in this country we are building our history.”
“We have to get serious about this,” Sawicki continued. “People drive around the city all the time and are like, ‘I can’t believe they are tearing that down.’ Well, here’s an opportunity. How many of these have already been torn down that should have been saved?”
Tyler countered, saying there are benefits to new development.
“A nice big building on my corner that is brand new and energy efficient, with green space and that creates jobs and places for people to live, doesn’t anyone see the upside to that?” Tyler said. “It would be nice.”
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will next consider the issue Feb. 6. If recommended, the proposed landmark district would head to the full City Council for approval, Leon said.
The 15 proposed properties include:
- 642 N. Dearborn St., circa 1872, architect unknown
- 17 E. Erie St., circa 1870s, architect unknown
- 14 W. Erie St., built in 1875, architect unknown
- 110 W. Grand Ave. circa 1872, architect unknown
- 1 E. Huron St., built in 1880, architect George H. Edbrooke
- 671 N. State St., built in 1876, architect unknown
- 9 E. Huron St., circa 1870s with front addition by architect Edgar Martin in 1922-23
- 10 E. Huron St., built in 1883, architects Cobb & Frost
- 16 W. Ontario St., circa 1872; alterations in 1888 by architects Ackermann & Starbuck
- 18 W. Ontario St., circa 1872, architect unknown
- 212 E. Ontario St., built in 1885, architects Burling & Whitehouse
- 222 E. Ontario St., built in 1885, architects Burling & Whitehouse
- 716 N. Rush St., built in 1883, architect Henry Ives Cobb
- 42 E. Superior St., built in 1883, architects Treat & Foltz
- 44-46 E. Superior St., built in 1872, builders Agnew & Hennessey
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