Landmark houses in different places

September 20, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1090

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. Continue Reading

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Razing River Forest

July 12, 2008 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1150

Well, that lovely little Drummond Prairie House on the 1100 block of Park is still there months after fencing went around it, but one of River Forest’s best Moderne houses went down quite suddenly a week or so ago.

This gem, on the corner of Division and Ashland, vanished with short notice and certainly takes a notch off the suburb’s architectural value. They knock’em quick on Ashland – in our survey this Spring we suggested amending the district to exclude one house – formerly in the National Register District with its neighbor – because they razed the neighbor overnight for a pool a couple of years ago. Two blocks to the north, same story this summer. I guess public outrage at teardowns has finally reached a broad enough swath of the publication that those who will do it must do it quickly and darkly.

The pictured house at Division and Ashland was an excellent example of the postwar triumph of the “International Style” or “Arte Moderne” with its prominent horizontals and celebration of modern building materials. The staircase march of casement windows seen to the right was fantastic. Continue Reading

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how does economics work?

April 22, 2008 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1348

There was a great symposium Saturday at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, one of several in conjunction with their exhibit on the history of Chicago preservation: “Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage?” that runs through May 9 (See it now!). Prof. Bob Bruegmann opened it up with an excellent history of teardowns and the inquisitive, expectation-overturning perspective he brings to everything. Prof. Richard Dye, an economist, explained the economics of teardowns. Both men suggested that an upside of teardowns was that they shouldered a bigger portion of the tax base, a fact that neighbors of teardowns are perhaps loath to admit. Bob did note that increased values could mean higher taxes for the teardown-adjacent in their little historic houses as well, and he also sagely discussed the new penchant for small houses, which are of course greener and thus more chic and popular with the wealthy. Continue Reading

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more teardowns

April 16, 2008 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts, Vision and Style Comments (0) 983

Well, it is spring and as usual that means there is a lot happening in preservation. I have some long wordy blogs in the works analyzing heritage and so forth, but for now we need a quick update. First, our class has been surveying River Forest to offer suggestions for updating their survey and we have already found what looks like a significant teardown about to happen, this lovely Prairie School gem on Park Avenue by Tallmadge & Watson. Yes, the same Tallmadge who coined the term “Prairie School” and started preservation in Chicago. This is considered a minor Prairie School house in Jeannette Field’s Architecture of River Forest book, but it is still a perfectly good building wrapped in fencing and porta-potties awaiting the Scraper for some new Lollapalazzo. Continue Reading

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McMansion World

March 21, 2007 Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on McMansion World 1171

Morning news: McDonalds is suing the Oxford English Dictionary over the word “McJobs,” describing low-paying menial jobs without hope of advancement. This made me wonder if the golden arch attorneys would be heading after “McMansions” next.

McMansions are what follows the teardown. They are franchised, mass-produced homes that are “mansions” in size and price only. They are McMansions because, design-wise, they are collections of signifiers, generally assembled artlessly, like the eponymous sandwiches. Palladian windows. Curving front staircases. Quoined corners. Big flat warpy windows with fake muntins that look like scotch tape because people read “divided lights” as “classy”. Balustrades, columns and pediments, the bacon, lettuce and cheese of Classical style (heavy on the cheese). They also tend to be SUPER-SIZED. Entrances tend toward the subtlety of a streetwalker, with similar effect. Like the burgers, they have all the outward signs of taste but the inside is nothing but architectural trans-fats: pressboard and PVC. Continue Reading

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Park Ridge: a Fistful of Dollars

March 8, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1256

Park Ridge, a suburb northwest of Chicago is careening into mediocrity thanks to teardowns that are turning a once-elegant neighborhood into a fast-buck boomtown, a Wild West municipality.

They tore down a Barry Byrne house Monday because contractors (several of them) told them they could get a new house for the same price as rehabbing and adding on to the old house. That is true, if the contractors lack skill. Continue Reading

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