LOGAN SQUARE — One of the most impressive yards in Logan Square — a green oasis filled with plants, flowers and fruit trees enclosed by a 100-year-old fence — will be preserved for generations to come after years of being vulnerable to redevelopment.
A historical mansion at 3024 W. Logan Boulevard known as the Jefferson Ice House has long held landmark status, but its stunning, unobstructed side yard, which dates back to the origins of the house, doesn’t and for many years was at risk of being replaced with a development.
But the beloved green space is staying put, thanks to new property owners Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, and neighbor David Berkey. The two donated a preservation easement to Landmarks Illinois, a tool that will protect the yard in perpetuity.
The easement was finalized this spring after nearly two years of planning and negotiations.
“Owning a home like this — it’s not just for your pleasure, it’s to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the garden, enjoy the architectural design of the house and continue to do that for many, many years. You choose to live in a community like Logan Square because you appreciate the longevity of the structures, the presence of the homes, the setting of the square itself,” Berkey said.
“It was important for us to ensure that those things can continue to be appreciated in the future.”
The Jefferson Ice House is one of the most well-known properties in Logan Square’s landmark district.
Originally built in 1908 for the family of John E. Rustman, the owner of the Jefferson Ice Company, the house has an eclectic architectural style.
Architect John Ahlschlager combined Georgian, Gothic and Arts and Crafts detailing to create something new, an approach that was typical of early 20th century architecture. A green tiled roof, 12-foot ceilings, original oak trim and stained glass windows are among the house’s many original features.
Part of what makes the property so special is it takes up three city lots, a rarity in a big city. The massive side yard, located directly east of the house, is arguably the crown jewel of the property and has for years drawn daily admirers, including Schneider and Berkey.
“I remember as a young man walking down Logan Boulevard and the first time I came to this house I stopped and stared in awe of the garden. I remember thinking, ‘If I could own this house, I really would’ve arrived,” Schneider said.
The house was originally built as a multi-generational family residence, separated into three units. As the new owners, Schneider and Berkey are keeping it that way.
Berkey and his family live in the second floor unit. Schneider is responsible for renting out the other two apartments and managing upkeep of the property.
Berkey and his husband are new to the house, but Schneider lived in Berkey’s unit with his family several years ago.
Schneider and Berkey are the fourth owners of the house. They bought the property in summer of 2021 from Lewis Coulson, former leader of Logan Square Preservation, for $1.4 million, according to Cook County property records.
“The previous owner approached us after COVID. They were snowbirds. The building is enormous; the yard is a huge amount of work. Through COVID, they were in Florida. They said, ‘We can’t keep up with the building any longer. It’s taking it out of us. It’s time for it to go into somebody’s hands who we trust,'” Schneider said.
When Schneider discovered the yard didn’t have landmark status, he immediately reached out to Landmarks Illinois about donating a preservation easement, he said.
While there haven’t been any specific proposals to redevelop the lot, Schneider and Berkey worried about future owners or developers wiping out the lush garden.
Similar situations have played out in other parts of the city. City officials in 2021 signed off on a new property owner’s plan to build an addition on a similar yard at 1514 N. Hoyne Ave. in Wicker Park’s Historic District.
“I’ve seen this happen many times, that someone has a side yard, they love it, but then the next person may not. You can’t know what the next owner may do. The next owner may decide, ‘I think I want to sell it off,'” Schneider said.
An easement is a legal agreement between a private property owner and a qualified easement-holding organization that gives the organization a legal interest in the property. The purpose of the agreement is to keep the property’s historic integrity intact if current or future owners do maintenance or make repairs.
In the case of the Jefferson Ice House, property owners are allowed to add a coach house in back so long as it passes a landmark review, Schneider said.
Frank Butterfield, COO of Landmarks Illinois, called an easement “the highest form of [landmark] protection.”
The organization has more than 500 easements across the state, Butterfield said.
“Local landmarking, which can be granted through a permit, can be revoked with a change in the political climate, whereas Landmarks Illinois — for this owner and future owners — has a legal interest in this property and the organization is committed to doing this,” Butterfield said.
For Schneider and Berkey, the process of donating a preservation easement was long and involved a lot of paperwork, but worth every bit of effort, they said.
The previous property owners took meticulous care of the side yard and even had the property’s electric wires installed underground so neighbors had a clear view of the grounds, Schneider said.
Berkey and his husband, Alejandro, are keeping their legacy alive by tending to the garden every day and adding new features, including a pathway leading up to some of the beds.
The yard is bursting with blooms, from peonies and hostas to a sprawling vegetable garden and a pear tree that grows three different types of pears.
During Christmastime, Berkey said they plan to put out a full-sized Santa and reindeer and invite neighbors to take photos with the festive display.
“Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t stop and say, ‘Your yard is the most lovely in the neighborhood, we just love your house, thank you for keeping up the garden.’ It’s rewarding, but it’s an important thing for the neighborhood, not just for us,” Berkey said.
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