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Boarded-Up House on Ashland Avenue Attracts Gang Activity, Neighbors Say

By Benjamin Woodard | April 30, 2013 8:45am | Updated on April 30, 2013 10:15am

ROGERS PARK — A vacant house on a residential stretch of Ashland Avenue plagued by gangs has been placed on the market by its owner, a well-known sommelier in Chicago's restaurant scene.

Joe Catterson has owned the house since 1994, according to records, but in recent years it has been tagged with gang graffiti. Residents said they don't feel safe walking near what has become a neighborhood eyesore.

Rich Mayszak and Cesar Julio said they've lived a few houses down from Catterson's property for eight years, and for most of that time the house has seemed empty and desolate.

"There was a point that it looked like nobody had lived there for 20 years," said Julio, 37.

"It’s a gang attraction," added Mayszak, who with other concerned neighbors gathered outside the home at 6720 N. Ashland Ave. to voice their frustration.

Mayszak, 52, said he often shoos teenagers off the property.

About two weeks ago, the property was tagged with gang graffiti, according to the Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

But that wasn't the first time gang members had vandalized the property.

Shortly after Catterson moved out, squatters moved in and trashed the place.

"I regret that things happened the way they did," said Catterson, 53, who worked on the house on a Friday evening in April. "I was a victim of vandalism and destruction."

Catterson, the former general manager and sommelier at upscale Lincoln Park restaurant Alinea, said the house had been empty for a few months when the vandals struck, shattering the first-floor windows, covering the walls with graffiti and the floors with paint, while "anything worth stealing they stole."

The interior has been gutted, but he said he hasn't been able to make all the repairs necessary to restore the home.

So he put the house on the market for $150,000.

"Hopefully someone will buy it and have the wherewithal to do" the restoration, he said.

Moore said his office had directed the city to inspect the building last year after complaints from neighbors started rolling in as the property deteriorated.

Moore said no code violations were found, but the house wasn't registered with the city as a vacant building.

"It’s certainly not adding anything to the community," said Gene Rehmert, 59, who has lived nearby for 22 years with his wife, Jill. "When you have a property that’s empty like this, it’s always a bit of a risk."

Lisa Miller, who lives with her husband and daughter in a condo on Columbia Avenue, said the property is a popular hangout for gang members and makes them feel uncomfortable when they walk by.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen — and I have a young child,” Miller said.

Some neighbors said they’d already suggested to Catterson that they’d consider buying the property from him. Like Catterson, neighbors hope the house can be fixed up by a new owner, yet some are skeptical if it will happen soon.

"What’s going to happen to it now?" Miller said. "Is it just going to sit here for another two years? It’s an eyesore."