A Tragedy in Park Ridge




cedar court demo

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

They tear down houses a lot in Park Ridge – you don’t have to look far to find a “This Home Will be DEMOLISHED” sign and it is easy to find new houses on each block, oversized 21st century Wonder Bread designs with the baroque doors, huge plastic windows, and Costco massing. They replace bungalows, Victorians, postwar ranches, whatever.

But this one hurts. Bad. They are taking down the center unit of a 5-house crescent development, and it is architecturally significant. The whole block is. It was once owned by William Malone, Park Ridge’s second mayor. The house has three homes by renowned architect R. Harold Zook and these five by Barry Byrne, one of the most significant architects to come out of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Studio.

The most significant after Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, actually. John Van Bergen was important, but stuck with residential commissions. William Drummond did some amazing buildings, but reverted to safe designs in the 1920s. Byrne became the only Prairie School architect to build in Europe and did large Catholic churches and seminaries into the 1960s. He never abandoned Modernism.

The Park Ridge Houses – called Cedar Court, were built about 1923 just before Byrne and Iannelli went to Europe and met Mies and Mendelsohn and Oud and Wijdeveld and toured the Weimar Bauhaus with Maholy-Nagy and Lyonel Feininger. They resemble Dutch or German houses of the period with their jerkinhead roofs, punched windows and stucco finish (interestingly over clay tile, not frame) And they are a matched set, the end houses anchoring, the inner houses with roofs sloping dramatically toward the center unit, deliciously symmetrical – and doomed.

Park Ridge has no landmarks protection and despite many fine buildings – notably the Pickwick Theater and Maine East High School, both by Zook, only two on the National Register.

Byrne designed the houses with his Park Ridge partner, the sculptor Alfonso Iannelli, who lived in the suburb for fifty years. Malone commissioned Byrne and Iannelli for a number of projects in Park Ridge and this is one of the few that was built, although the commercial strip around the corner bears some of the hallmarks of Byrne and Iannelli’s textural modernism. There are long garages behind – two cars go in either end. The half-moon courtyard in front of the houses is owned in common and can’t be built upon.

This demolition is happening because the owner figured rehab would cost almost $400 K and he can get a new house for that. But it will destroy the context of the crescent-shaped complex and unless the new house mimics the old – which it won’t – it will take away from the houses around it. It will almost certainly reduce their value.

But that is how teardowns work – parasitically sucking value from the buildings around them into 20-year lifespan hack jobs of new growth pine and pressboard.

It’s too bad it has to happen to one of Illinois’ great architect-artist teams. Maybe Park Ridge will wake up and pass a landmarks ordinance.

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