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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Edgewater’s Ken Nordine Mansion Gets Preliminary Landmark Status Over Owner’s Objections

The family of late jazz poet Ken Nordine is seeking to demolish his former mansion, but the city stopped those efforts.

Edgewater's Nordine Mansion has received preliminary landmark status from the city of Chicago.
Patrick Pyszka/City of Chicago
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EDGEWATER — The city’s Landmark Commission has given Edgewater’s Nordine Mansion preliminary landmark status, saving the historic home from the wrecking ball — at least temporarily.

The stately home at 6106 N. Kenmore Ave. was owned by the jazz poet and celebrated recording artist Ken Nordine, who died last year. The last home on a block of mid-rise buildings, Nordine’s estate is seeking to demolish the home and sell the land, a move that has not sit well with some preservationists and neighbors.

A demolition permit was applied for by the Nordine family in December, setting off a city review of whether razing the building is the right course of action. On Thursday, the city’s Landmark Commission denied the demolition permit and extended preliminary landmark status to the home.

The Nordine Mansion is one of the few remaining homes from Edgewater’s earliest period, when it was a North Shore suburb home to classic mansions. Preserving a portion of the neighborhood’s history is important, said the home’s supporters, including Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).

“I believe, on behalf of my community, that it is critical to preserve this building,” Osterman said at Thursday’s meeting. “To have this building demolished, it would be a tragedy for our city.”

The preliminary landmark status goes against the wishes of the Nordine family and the late Ken Nordine himself, said Thomas Ramsdell, a lawyer representing the family.

“When he died, he wanted the house to go with him,” Ramsdell said. “The folks who are supporting this [landmark designation] are using his celebrity. At the same time, they’re not respecting his legacy.”

The home at 6106 N. Kenmore was built in 1902 by the architecture firm Pond and Pond, some of the most notable architects in Chicago history. It was built for the industrialist Herbert Farrington Perkins. Constructed in the arts and crafts style, the home is one of the best-surviving of the first-generation mansions built in Edgewater’s early years, according to a city assessment of the home.

Nordine bought the home in 1951. He later used a studio in the home to record some of his most notable works of art, including the Grammy-nominated “Stare With Your Ears,” a spoken word album that highlights Nordine’s unique mixing of beat poetry and jazz music coined “Word Jazz.”

The Nordine Home meets five criteria for landmark status, though it only needs to meet two to receive such a designation. According to the city, those criteria include: its value as an example of Chicago heritage, its association with an important person, its exemplary architecture, its connection with important architects and its historical integrity.

The house does have upkeep issues, Ken Nordine Jr. said at the meeting Thursday. Maintenance on the home has been deferred for years, and requires a “huge” amount of renovation.

“It’s truly in a great state of disrepair,” Nordine Jr. said.

There are ways for the Nordine family to make money on the home without demolishing it, proponents said. Because it sits on a double-wide, corner lot, the property can be subdivided, with the yard developed into more housing. The home could also be partitioned into multi-unit housing.

Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said historic preservation and new development can coexist.

“This building helped me understand what this neighborhood was before its rapid change,” Cox said.

Now that the home has received preliminary landmark status, a public hearing will be held on granting the home full landmark status. A hearing office will then make a recommendation, which will then be taken up by the Landmark Commission.

“This is just the first step,” said Rafael M. Leon, chair of the Landmark Commission.

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