CITY HALL — The Commission on Chicago Landmarks moved Thursday to formally preserve West Burton Place, the quirky former artist colony in Old Town.
Artists are known to be iconoclastic individuals, and some of that remains as local residents divided over the proposal ahead of the vote.
A letter read into the record from Robert Zadylak, president of the West Burton Place Corp., asked a two-part process immediately landmarking four buildings on the south side of Burton Place, 153-161 W. Burton, all of which have owners who support the proposal, while holding back the buildings across the street for later consideration and also considering 1500 N. LaSalle St. as well as buildings between the end of the Burton Place cul-de-sac and Wells Street.
Yet Matt Crawford, of the Department of Planning and Development, testified that the multi-unit apartment building at 1500 N. LaSalle "does not compare in any way" with the do-it-yourself artist renovations found in the other Burton Place buildings. He also argued that the buildings between the cul-de-sac and Wells had been altered beyond recognition as buildings in the artist colony, and that a tavern building on Wells "really didn't fit with the historical context."
Steve Weiss, a Burton Place resident, argued that those buildings had been ruled out because commission staffers had thought they might tilt overall owner opinion against landmarking.
"There is something wrong with the process," he said, accusing the commission of trying to "take away people's property rights," and adding that his residence was faced with a $2,000 insurance increase if landmarked.
"Let me dispel that," countered Chairman Rafael Leon. He said commission staff does not canvas property owners to gauge support and only rules on the merits of potential landmarks.
Deputy Commissioner Eleanor Gorski said the Law Department would look into the insurance hike.
Otherwise, residents were in favor. Amy Keller, a Burton Place resident and vice president of the Chicago Art Deco Society, argued for the entire area to be preserved. "Every building on the block helps to tell the story," she said. "The buildings are all important," she added, and deserve to be protected from demolition.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, supported the move, and it was endorsed by Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., even as he also suggested that 143 and 152 W. Burton be excluded for the time being.
Debate has been raging over the area for the better part of a year. The proposal to landmark the block originated as 159 W. Burton Place was being considered for demolition. That resulted in the building being sold to preservationists in the area in August.
Burton Place developed as an artist colony under the guidance of Sol Kogen and Edgar Miller, thriving during the Depression era and creating buildings that remain unique both inside and out.
The proposal to grant landmark status to the buildings — 143-161 and 150-160 W. Burton Place — cleared the commission unanimously and now moves on to the City Council for final approval, and likely still more debate.