BEVERLY — A Far South Side arts group is hoping to repurpose a long-vacant, dilapidated historical home in the Dan Ryan Woods as their new headquarters, as neighbors push to stop the building from being torn down.
The Eugene S. Pike House, inside the National Register-listed Ridge Historic District at 1826 W. 91st St, has been vacant for years. Landmarks Illinois listed it as one of the state’s most endangered properties last year, saying it needs an outside investor to bring it back to life.
It was originally built in the late-19th century for Eugene S. Pike, a prominent Chicago real estate developer who was instrumental in rebuilding the city after the Great Chicago Fire. Its architect, Henry Hale Waterman, was a noted prairie school architect who worked with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, George Maher and other prominent house designers of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The home was most recently used as a watchman’s residence for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which owns the property since it is inside the Dan Ryan Woods.
The agency issued a request for expressions of interest, a more informal solicitation than a traditional request for proposals, in April 2022 as a way to potentially prevent demolition.
Far South Side historical and preservation organizations are pushing to keep the house standing.
“The Pike House is a unique structure with its red sandstone and adds a lot of presence and character to the neighborhood,” Debbie Nemeth, president of the Beverly-based Ridge Historical Society, told Block Club.
Pike House Foundation, a separate entity from the Ridge Historical Society and Beverly Area Planning Association, previously teamed up to organize to preserve the house. Mati Maldre, a board member, was among a group of people invited to tour the building when its preservation came into greater focus in recent months.
“Raccoons got in, and parts of the ceiling are falling down into the living room,” Maldre said. “It needs quite a bit of fixing up.”
For the critical repairs needed, cost estimates have come in anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000, and an additional $700,000 to $900,000 could be needed for other work, members of the Pike House Foundation found out during a meeting in early June.
As of early June, one proposal has been submitted, which has intrigued local leaders and residents.
The Beverly Area Arts Alliance wants to use the building as a “home base,” complete with artist galleries and events. The Pike House Foundation is working with them on finding the funding to renovate and maintain the building long-term.
The group sees the Pike House as “an oasis of arts and culture in North Beverly.”
“We believe the historic Pike House should be preserved and that it can and should serve the community as a hub for cultural and natural encounters,” organizers wrote in the proposal.
“The Pike House is an excellent location to host artists, musicians and writers in residence, and invite the community to gallery exhibitions, workshops, concerts, readings and more. The Alliance can serve as an arts partner, activating the space to coincide with and support other uses as well, such as a special event space, yoga studio, rehearsal space for musicians or educational or community gathering space.”
Grace Kuikman, assistant director of the Beverly Area Planning Association and spokeswoman for the Pike House Foundation, said she is intrigued by the Alliance’s plan and the foundation wants to work with them to raise money.
“We are pretty excited about their proposal,” Kuikman said. “Hopefully the Forest Preserve will see this as compatible with our proposal for funding.”
But the primary motivation of the Forest Preserve is to preserve open space, and a structure like the Pike House doesn’t necessarily fall into that category.
“When the Forest Preserves of Cook County acquires land, we understand that some properties include buildings that have a history,” Carl Vogel, communications director for the Forest Preserve, said in a statement. “That said, the mission of the Forest Preserves is to protect and preserve natural open space for public use, education and enjoyment. We are not able to spend deeply on building restoration that does not align with this mission.”
After declining a 2018 proposal for the house from the ‘Design Equi consortium’ as “not feasible,” the Forest Preserve again issued a request for expressions of interest.
“There was no indication of who was in that group, their location, etc.,” Vogel said of the previous bidders. “Just the name. It gave four ideas for reuse in a four-page document; a brainstorm of possible options rather than a plan with operational details.”
This time around, Vogel said the Forest Preserve appreciates “the enthusiasm in the community to restore the Pike House. We have worked and continue to work to find a way to preserve this building while investing within our mission.”
Count Greg Fischer, owner of the nearby Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery, as one who wants the Pike House saved in any way possible.
“If I had the means, I’d buy it myself,” Fischer said. “It may need a lot of repair, but, on the outside, it looks beautiful.”
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