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Old Town Rushes to Landmark Historic Block Before Demolition OK'd

By Paul Biasco | July 22, 2015 6:16am
 Zac Bleicher of Edgar Miller Legacy look out over balcony of the Carl Street Studios at the building at 159 W. Burton Place that is slated to be torn down.
Zac Bleicher of Edgar Miller Legacy look out over balcony of the Carl Street Studios at the building at 159 W. Burton Place that is slated to be torn down.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

OLD TOWN — A band of neighbors on the block that birthed Old Town is trying to stop a developer from demolishing a 124-year-old three-flat to make way for modern condos.

The building at 159 W. Burton Place is adjacent to the historic and culturally significant Carl Street Studios, which was transformed into studios by Edgar Miller in the 1930s.

Those unique handmade artist studios were carved out of a former mansion, and the artists who lived there, including Miller and Sol Kogen, outfitted them with stained glass windows, elaborate carved wood doors, sculptures, mosaics and frescoes.

Residents of the Carl Street Studios condos, which is next door to 159 W. Burton Place, fear the demolition of the neighboring building would not only ruin the unique character of the block, but will also damage their one-of-a-kind homes.

"With all the vibrations the windows are going to crack, the mosaics are going to pop off," said Zac Bleicher, director at Edgar Miller Legacy, a group dedicated to preserving Edgar Miller's work in Chicago. "This stuff is priceless."

159 W. Burton Place is the red Victorian building to the center-right in the photo. [provided]

Carl Street Studios (Burton Place was formerly known as Carl Street) was the center of the art community on the North Side in the '30s and '40s and the block paved the way for Old Town to become the center of the city's hippie culture in the '60s.

"This is the birth of Old Town right here," Bleicher said. "A lot of people don't know that because it hasn't been landmarked unfortunately."

Residents on the block are now racing to get their block landmarked by the city before the developer can obtain a demolition permit.

If that doesn't work, they hope they can persuade him to spare the building and instead renovate the units.

The owner of the Victorian building at 159 Burton Place bought the home for $1.35 million in April.

Sebastien Barsh, the owner of Castlerock Properties, is seeking a demolition permit to construct a four-story condominium building, according to residents who have seen the plans.

Barsh, when reached for comment by DNAinfo Tuesday, refused to answer any questions about the project.

"At this point I really have no comment on the situation," he said.

Amy Keller and Zac Bleicher stand in the garden of the Carl Street Studios adjacent to 159 W. Burton Place. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Bleicher and other residents of the block have started an aggressive campaign to block construction and have posted S-O-S (Save Our Street) fliers in the neighborhood.

Their online petition to block the demolition was signed by 750 supporters as of Tuesday afternoon.

The block began seeking a landmark designation for the street seven years ago, but never went through with the process.

Now they are seeking to fast-track the landmarking.

The West Burton Place Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Place, but that doesn't include protections that a city landmark designation would provide.

"We have a group of people who really didn’t see it necessary to landmark," said Amy Keller, a resident at Carl Street Studios and executive vice president at the Chicago Art Deco Society. "It never really came to mind because there was never a huge threat before."

Keller, who called the block an oasis in the middle of the city, said she has met with the owner and attempted to persuade him.

"Clearly he doesn’t know the history of that block," she said. "It was important to me that we reach out to him and make sure he knows the history and why people were sending him nasty emails and freaking out.”

Keller said the building is one piece of the block that helps tell a story of its history.

It has been home to some of Chicago's most famed artists including Miller, Kogen, Jesus Torres and later Roger Ebert.

The entrance to an apartment in the Carl Street Studios features unique tile work and a carved wood door. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Neighbors posted a sign on the building next to 159 W. Burton Place. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

The side garden of the Carl Street Studios features a koi pond and unique tile work. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

A bathroom inside the Victorian home that is proposed to be demolished contains similar styling as the Carl Street Studios next door. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

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