Posts Tagged ‘839 Park Avenue’

Chicago October 2009

October 8, 2009

1. Save Gropius Buildings at Michael Reese

Blair Kamin in today’s Tribune makes the case for saving the Gropius buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital. He also takes to task the city’s spokesperson for an indefensible “we are proceeding” position. This is no longer an overnight development for the Olympics and it is no longer a job for the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing sector of the development community. It is not that hard to reuse some or all of these buildings, and now that we needn’t follow the dictates of the Olympic village, we can use variety in height and scale (as Gropius did) to make the south lakefront more urbanistically interesting than it would have been under the previous plan.
MRH kaplan anglS
MRH gropius 31st bS

2. 839 Park Avenue, River Forest. I blogged about this one recently. Hometown architect. Significant student of Frank Lloyd Wright. A design that sits in the landscape in a way that CANNOT be achieved in less than a generation. What new building will look half as good as this?
park drumm709s
This has been covered in the local press, but NO ONE mentions the Illinois Property Tax Freeze as an option, which it clearly is – as noted by Landmarks Illinois and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

My conclusion? The new owners are head over heels in love with property taxes!

They have chosen to put this million-dollar home in a landfill and GIVE us twice as much in property taxes than they would have if they simply built a rear addition to double the size of the house and improve its floorplan. I guess they are saving everyone else in River Forest a lot of money.

Maybe not – depending on how the new building looks, it could depress local values. Could that be the strategy? Build an ugly house and thereby reduce values and thus property taxes? Hmm. We will have to see.

3. Aqua – Sitting (or standing) in the new modern wing at AIC you are surrounded by Piano and confronted by Gehry. But you are also astounded by the female winner of this “contest” – Jeanne Gang and her Aqua, quite easily the most interesting, urbane and aesthetically pleasing highrise in twenty years. Everyone is noticing its insistent elegance between its more brusque and brash neighbors.
mod wing bridgeo909s
mill pk aqua
mill pk aqua cls

4. The Society of Architectural Historians conference is here in Chicago in April. I am Local Chair and you should all come – great tours and the latest and greatest thoughts from those who think about buildings across all places and all times.


NOBEL PEACE PRIZE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA – Only the second Chicagoan to win this award – the first being Jane Addams in 1931. The New York Times headline calls it a political liability at home. Huh? John Bolton, the cantankerous anti-furriner that was made ambassador to the UN (that’s IRONY with ALL of the letters capitalized) said: “It’s high-minded Europeans talking down to hayseed Americans, saying this is the way you ought to be.” That’s probably true, but Mr. Bolton shouldn’t worry. If history is a guide, low-mindedness will certainly make a comeback before too long. Or did they blow it all on town hall drive-by shoutings?


Landmark houses in different places

September 20, 2009

park drumm709s
Here is a lovely 1920s William Drummond home in River Forest that was recently sold for a few nickels shy of a million dollars as a teardown. Drummond was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s longtime apprentices in the Prairie era, and he lived in River Forest, where he designed numerous Prairie homes, a church, the library and the women’s club, now an award-winning private home. His 1920s designs featured these long sweeping rooflines that blended the continuity of modernity with formal nods to the traditional styles like Tudor that had captured popular taste in the period. This is one of a small number he did in River Forest, and it is gorgeous. It has a lot of interior layout issues, due to the integral garage, but it is unfortunate that a competent designer was not hired to make the house work for modern needs. You don’t need a competent designer for a teardown – anyone at all can do that. It is simpler. It takes no thinking or endeavor, only money.
bellinger cS
The Sunday paper (Tribune) has an article on this house, called “Coloring Inside The Lines” by William Hageman. That is a nice title, because it describes what happened here and what should have happened to the Drummond house in River Forest. This is the famed 1860s Bellinger Cottage on Chicago’s north side, which survived the Great Chicago Fire thanks to Policeman Bellinger, who reportedly poured hard cider on the house to keep the flames away. It is a small cottage that new owners – who spent over a million on the house – wanted to add on to. They did, but they stayed within the historic guidelines – not expanding into the side yard or altering the building’s appearance from the street. They moved a stair that had chopped up the inside of the house – a similar issue to that presented by the Drummond’s interior. They hired my friends at McGuire Igleski Architects, who know how to work with owners and landmarks commissions. The article mentions the importance of the architects, owners and builders getting in sync. And now they are in the Sunday papers.

I don’t know if the house that replaces the graceful Drummond on Park Avenue will make the Sunday papers, but I doubt it. Since they don’t have to color inside the lines, there is little call for creativity and little need for coordination. You just follow a formula. But they could have done something fantastic, adding on the rear, reconfiguring the interior. You can’t buy that facade – those bricks, those openings today. It isn’t that they are expensive – they don’t make them, period. This house is irreplaceable.

River Forest has an extremely weak landmarks ordinance and Chicago has a working one. A so-called “property rights” advocate might say this is better for River Forest. I say you get a better picture coloring inside the lines than scribbling all over the place.

October Update: The River Forest commission held a hearing on the issue which included this blog. It also included KEY information from Landmarks Illinois, which was not brought up locally: if you saved the house and added on the rear, you could take advantage of the Illinois Property Tax Freeze. It seems few people were aware of that. I hope the owners take advantage of it – unless they are tax enthusiasts who eschew such givebacks.

December Update: The Drummond is gone. The property tax enthusiasts who own the site won.