ROGERS PARK — The city has halted work on a historically protected building in Rogers Park after its new owner improperly removed a terra cotta bust and other features from its facade.
Two stop-work orders have been issued to the owner of 1618 W. Devon Ave., a former movie house built in 1912. The first order was issued Oct. 4, after neighbors and city officials noticed the building’s decorative figurehead had been removed without proper permits.
A second stop-work order was issued Oct. 20 after the first notice was removed from the site improperly, said Victor Owoeye, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Buildings.
The stop-work orders were issued because of permitting problems, officials said. But the work also runs afoul of city preservation statues that seek to prevent protected buildings from being altered.
The original terra cotta figurehead — thought to be a bust of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis — was removed along with glazed bricks because they were in disrepair, building owner Doris Eneamokwu said. The bust has been discarded, she said.
Eneamokwu bought the Devon Avenue building this summer for $655,000 from a trust tied to the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, the building’s longtime tenant, records show. She is working to open a banquet and events hall in the space and said she didn’t know it was a historically protected structure when she bought it.
“I didn’t know it was a landmark property,” Eneamokwu said. “It didn’t come up in the sale. The property was deteriorated. I was trying to make it look better.”
Had the owner filed for the proper building permits, she would have learned of the building’s historical status, said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.
The Devon Avenue building is rated “orange” in the city’s historic resources survey, the second-highest preservation status a city building can earn. When developers seek permits for such buildings, city staff usually notify applicants of historic protections and can help with funding and assistance for renovations, Miller said. Demolition permits for orange-rated buildings trigger a 90-day hold to review the building’s significance and options for preservation.
“They bypassed an important step,” he said. “There could have been programming in place to fix the building and the problems with it.”
The building was constructed as the New Devon Theater movie house in 1912 by noted architect Henry Ross. Built with a glazed brick facade and including a large arch and the bust, its design is indicative of turn-of-the-century movie houses in Chicago, according to the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society.
It served as a Ford dealership in the 1920s and a radio-television store in the 1950s before becoming the headquarters of the Assyrian American Association’s local chapter in 1963, according to the historical society.
Neighbors and officials with Ald. Andre Vasquez’s 40th Ward office noticed work was being done on the building, and the ward office contacted the Department of Buildings after learning no permits were pulled, said Geoffrey Cubbage, Vasquez’s director of policy and economic development.
When scaffolding went up following the first stop-work order, the office reached out again to City Hall and local police to help enforce the order, he said. A second order was then issued.
“We’re aware that this is a historic, orange-rated building, and we’ll continue working with the Department of Buildings and the 24th District to enforce its legal protections,” Cubbage said.
Eneamokwu said her plan was to replace the glazed brick with a stucco facade as she seeks to open the event hall. She wanted to redo the facade because the existing one was damaged and materials to fix it were hard to find.
Permit applications have been filed, said Eneamokwu, who owns Little Kiddies Day Care in Rogers Park. She said she is willing to revise plans if there is a way to renovate the existing facade, and she is open to adding a replica of the original bust.
The stop-work orders have delayed plans for the the banquet hall, which was slated to debut around Thanksgiving with a holiday dinner for less fortunate people, Eneamokwu said. The business owner said she has been harassed by people unhappy with the work.
“This is supposed to be for the community to have their functions and meetings,” she said.
Officials said there is a chance the building’s existing facade can be restored.
The local ward office is looking into requiring restoration rather than just fines or other penalties, Cubbage said. There are companies that can restore the facade and possible funding sources for historical preservation, Miller said.
“There could be a really remarkable restoration of the facade,” he said. “That would be an ideal situation.”
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