HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago announced plans to tear down an apartment building where U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s family lived for a year when he was a toddler, along with 26 other buildings west of campus, to make way for a new parking garage.
Groups advocating for preservation of the apartment building at 832 E. 57th St. were caught off guard by the Oct. 17 announcement. The former president's family lived there from 1914 to 1915.
Redd Griffin of the Ronald Reagan in Chicago Committee, who made a plea to the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks June 8, declined to provide details on how the group planned to respond.
“I don’t think we’re throwing in the towel,” Griffin said in an Oct. 18 phone interview. “We may not be able to save the building, but there may be other things we can do.”
President Reagan is more frequently associated with Tampico, Ill., where he was born, and Dixon, Ill., where he spent much of his childhood. But he lived in a first-floor, gas-lit apartment on 57th Street from age 3 to 4.
The University of Chicago bought the building in 2004, part of a decade-long process of acquiring all of the residential buildings north of the new hospital pavilion.
“Along with evaluating all of the buildings that we propose to demolish to build the garage, we discussed them with staff at the Landmarks Commission and found that none of the buildings would be considered for landmark status,” Calmetta Coleman, a spokeswoman for the university, said in an Oct. 18 email. “While 832 E. 57th St., which is a typical Chicago-style apartment building, will be demolished, we are considering a plaque or other marker to commemorate President Reagan’s brief stay there.”
The university is tearing down the former Reagan home to minimize the impact of demolition on patients and the few remaining residents, according to Coleman. The home lies outside the site of the new garage, but according to Coleman, it would possibly be used for construction staging or worker parking.
Workers at the site on Thursday said they were under orders to bring the buildings down by the end of November, leaving little time for preservationists to mount resistance.
The university has progressed quietly with its plans to remove the remaining three blocks of residential housing between the campus and Washington Park. Staff at Ballert Orthopedic, 5659 South Cottage Ave., and Sammy’s Touch restaurant, 5659 S. Cottage Grove Ave., were unaware Thursday their building would soon be demolished.
Rubio Torres, who was taking orders from construction and hospital workers at Sammy’s Touch on Oct. 25, said there were rumors of demolition, but he was unaware of the university’s plans.
The university’s plan calls for an eight-story, 1,800-space garage, connected to the Center for Care and Discovery Hospital by a second-floor pedestrian bridge over East 57th Street.
Cecilia Butler, chairwoman of the Washington Park Advisory Council, was hopeful the garage would make it easier to use the park.
“Monday through Friday the park is full of parked cars,” Butler said, after the Oct. 17 meeting with university planners. “These are workers of the university. ... It is unacceptable for a group of people to monopolize a portion of the park every day.”
Plans call for the site of the Reagan-related building to end up as a manicured green space next to the garage. The university has not announced plans for the space between the garage and the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, 900 E. 57th St., but last year successfully secured a zoning change that would allow much higher and denser construction than the existing townhomes.
“As has been discussed in previous public meetings, we expect future uses in that area to be research-focused rather than residential,” Coleman said of the university’s plans.