UPTOWN — The owners of O'Shaughnessy's Public House in Ravenswood want to demolish a 117-year-old Victorian home in Uptown to build a "high-end" apartment complex, but some neighbors say the house deserves landmark status.
Mike and Liz Finan have an agreement with the current owners of the house, located at 4642 N. Magnolia Ave., to buy it for $525,000 — contingent on the city granting the Finans a demolition permit.
"If we can't demolish it, the contract is dead," Mike Finan said.
The city is currently reviewing the Finans' permit request. The house is one of about 9,600 properties in Chicago categorized as "potentially significant" for its architectural features or historic associations. Because of its status, a 90-day demolition delay was triggered when the Finans applied for the permit on Oct. 7.
The couple also seeks to rezone the parcel of land from residential single-unit designation to residential townhouse designation, and build a six-flat apartment complex with "high-end, condo quality" rental units.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) had hoped that whoever purchased the building “would not demolish it,” according to his chief of staff Tressa Feher. Feher said “we want to do what the community wants,” and that if landmark status is what the community wishes for, then the alderman will do his best to help grant that wish.
The endangered Victorian resides in Sheridan Park, an area in Uptown that was named a historic district in 1985 and is "filled with a dazzling array of unique single-family houses and smaller apartment buildings by some of the most prominent 19th and early 20th century architects," according to Preservation Chicago.
An elderly Uptown resident, Thomas D. Rutherford, owns the house, which sustained damages from a fire about 15 years ago but had already been vacant for a few years before that, Liz Finan said. Rutherford wasn't reachable for comment.
The five-bedroom house — while for the most part gutted and in need of restoration — retains some of its original features, including hand-carved wood staircases, stained-glass windows and two fireplaces. Mike Finan said that the stained-glass windows would be preserved in another property or sold, but not destroyed.
Uptown resident Victoria Gregory has lived in the neighborhood for about a year and remembers seeing the house back when she was first looking at properties to buy in the area.
She commented on "how stunning it is from the outside," and said "it would be a real shame if it gets demolished and some new type of building gets put in its place."
But an occupied property is better than a vacant one and "it would be a shame for people in the neighborhood to disagree with the owners when nobody is willing to step up, buy it and restore it themselves," she added.
The Finans have restored a number of old buildings, including the Pickard Building at 4557 N. Ravenswood Ave., where their business is located, and a greystone at 4724 N. Magnolia, which is their home in Uptown.
But the Victorian at 4642 N. Magnolia Ave. "doesn't have any value if we can't knock it down," Liz Finan said. Her husband said "the house is completely demolished on the interior" due to the fire years ago and would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to remodel.
The Finans would have to raise the asking price on the home high enough to recoup their investment before putting it back on the market, and aren't convinced the single-family home would be an easy sale or wise investment given market conditions in the area, they said.
Martin Tangora, a proponent of landmarking the house, has lived on the block since 1975 and owns a home close to the Victorian house. It's a house that "has always been singled out for its architectural quality whenever the neighborhood was surveyed," Tangora said in an email.
The home is "Far from being a blight on the neighborhood, it is much admired and loved," wrote Tangora, the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee's historic structures expert.
John Holden, former president of the Uptown Historical Society said he has "witnessed a lot of the most significant beautiful buildings in the neighborhood get torn down," and would like to see the house saved.
The Uptown resident cited the controversial demolition of a Victorian house that had been the oldest home in Sheridan Park — before a developer took a wrecking ball to it in 2005 with plans of building condos — but left Uptown with another vacant lot.
Holden, who was instrumental in rallying neighbors' support for establishing the nearby Dover Street Landmark District, said that residents have pushed in recent years to "down zone," properties, particularly single-family homes, to create a disincentive for developers looking to demolish old homes and erect higher density residencies.
Tangora said that reversing that trend would be "surprising and disappointing."
But Mike Finan said that him and his wife "are not the bad guys."
"We want to bring the neighborhood up," he said. "And the way to bring the neighborhood up is to get rid of these vacant properties and get people living in them."