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Old Town Home Designed By Architect Walter Netsch On Track To Get Rare Landmarking Status For Its Bold Interior

The Netsch Home was built in 1974 and features levels connected by open-riser stairs to create spaces with varying ceiling heights and intricately placed skylights.

The Netsch House was designed in 1974 by architect Walter Netsch.
Provided/Dave Burk @ SOM
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OLD TOWN — An Old Town home designed by iconic architect Walter Netsch could soon get a rare interior landmarking status for its unconventional floor plan.

The home at 1700 N. Hudson Ave. features multistory ceiling heights that create an illusion of it being larger and skylights designed to illuminate specific spaces at certain times of the day and year.

The Commission on Landmarks voted unanimously Thursday to give a preliminary landmark recommendation to the home. The designation is not only for the home’s exterior but also for the interior, which commissioners said is a rare practice in Chicago.

Credit: Twitter/Chicago Department of Planning and Development
The Netsch House, 1700 N. Hudson Ave., received a preliminary landmark designation Thursday.
Credit: Twitter/Chicago Department of Planning and Development
The Netsch House’s skylights are intentionally placed to illuminate specific areas during different times of the day and year.

The home was designed in 1974 by Netsch, an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, according to the firm’s website. From the outside, it appears as a deceptively simple box, but its interior uses multiple levels connected by open-riser stairs to create a variety of spaces.

Netsch used his architectural philosophy of “field theory,” which uses complicated geometric shapes to create interiors, while designing the home, according to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“It’s a terrifically important house, certainly on a visual and architectural level,” said Max Chavez, director of research and special projects for Preservation Chicago, who spoke during the hearing to express his organization’s support for the designation. “It’s a very important home by a very important architect, which alone should be enough to landmark it.”

Credit: Twitter/Chicago Department of Planning and Development
The Netsch House uses multiple levels connected by open-riser stairs to create various spaces within the home.
Credit: Provided/Dave Burk @ SOM
The Netsch House was renovated after 2014 by SOM to update the interior while preserving its original design.

Netsch, who died in 2008, was known locally for projects like the University of Illinois Chicago campus in 1965, the Joseph Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University’s library, Chavez said.

Netsch also designed government buildings across the country, including the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado, said Matt Crawford, a staffer for the Department of Planning and Development.

Netsch lived in the home with his wife, Dawn Clark Netsch, a politician who went on to become the first woman to run for governor in Illinois.

Clark Netsch grew up in Cincinnati and moved to Chicago to study politics and law at Northwestern University, where she graduated in 1952 as the first and only woman in her class, Crawford said.

In 1969, Clark Netsch was elected as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention, where she proved herself a successful negotiator across party lines as the state updated its constitution for the first time in a century, Crawford said.

Clark Netsch became the first woman elected to the State Senate in 1973 and served for 18 years advancing equal rights amendments, the Family Medical Leave Act and funding for HIV care, Crawford said.

Clark Netsch’s 1994 bid for Illinois governor made her the first woman to run for that office in the state, Crawford said.

“As you can see, the Netsch House tells the story of not one but two very significant figures in Chicago history,” Chavez said.

Credit: Provided/Chicago Department of Planning and Development
Dawn Clark Netsch made history as the first woman to run for Illinois governor in 1994.

Will Forrest and his husband, Mark Smithe, bought the home after Clark Netsch died in 2014. Forrest spoke during the hearing to express their support for the designation, calling it a “privilege and a pleasure to be a custodian” of the home.

The home was used by the Netsch family as a meeting place for Netsch’s architectural practice and Clark Netsch’s legal clinic, Forrest said.

“We’ve learned it’s not just a home but it is an extension of the community,” Forrest said. “We are committed to it being an ongoing community and information space for members of the local community and architectural community of Chicago.”

Credit: Provided/Chicago Department of Planning and Development
Walter Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch, photographed in their home in the 1990s.

Chavez said although interior landmarking designations are uncommon, he hopes the preliminary designation to the Netsch House will signal a “new era” for preservation policy.

“There are countless other structures in Chicago that contain important interiors … and these spaces are certainly worthy of permanent protection in order to tell a complete story about the building or the site,” Chavez said. “We’re hoping that an eventual success in landmarking the interior of the Netsch House could help expand the scope of how we designate landmarks to interiors in the future.”

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