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City Demolishes 127-Year-Old Landmark Cottage In Old Town Despite Outcry

By Joe Ward | July 25, 2016 1:35pm | Updated on July 27, 2016 8:35am
 The home at 322 W. Willow St. was torn down Monday despite neighbors protests to protect the 127-year-old building
The home at 322 W. Willow St. was torn down Monday despite neighbors protests to protect the 127-year-old building
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

OLD TOWN — A 127-year-old home was demolished early Monday, much to the dismay of neighbors and preservationists in the historic neighborhood, some of whom crowded around the construction site to say their goodbyes.

The home at 322 W. Willow St. received an emergency demolition permit Friday afternoon and was demolished by 10 a.m. Monday after city building inspectors condemned the property, according to neighbors and city records.

Its demolition on Monday morning concludes a year-long fight by neighbors and preservationists to preserve the home, which had landmark status in Chicago.

Now, neighbors are hoping to use the struggle as a learning process for future preservation efforts.

Ald. Michelle Smith (43) said the demolition was a sad end to a historic property within the city's first landmark district.

"Tragically, after a series of valiant efforts by our community, the Department of Buildings determined that the structure had to come down," Smith said.

The home, a wood-based cottage built in 1889, had been granted landmark "contributing" status, meaning it has historic value.

But the home was vacant for about a decade after the housing market crashed in the early 2000s, said Phil Graff, an Old Town resident. It was bought in 2015 for $450,000, and the new owner and neighbors had clashed since then on planned improvements to the house.

A man on a bike tour of historic Old Town watches as crews demolish a landmark home in the 300 block of West Willow Street Monday. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

Both parties agreed on a series of renovations in early 2016. But the agreement was nixed when the owner said that further inspection of the home showed that it could not be salvaged, and a demolition permit was sought, neighbors said.

A building inspector went out to the property on July 11 and determined that it was "extremely dangerous and hazardous and needs to be demolished immediately," according to an email from the Department of Buildings. The inspector noted that parts of the structure had completely rotted, including all sides of the foundation, the second floor's northwest corner and portions of the roof.

Neighbors don't disagree that the building was in disrepair. But they wondered if there was something that could be done to protect at least portions of the historic, wooden cottage

"It was in terrible condition," Graff said. "The question is, how bad was the rot, and could it be salvaged?"

The Old Town Triangle Association called an emergency meeting Saturday after learning that the demolition permit had been granted Friday. Neighbors said they were interested in appealing the decision, but said the fact that it was demolished so quickly gave them no chance to act.

"The critical point for us is we wanted an hire an engineer and have him determine if it could be salvaged," said Dave Pfendler, Old Town resident. "It had definitely been left to rot."

The building's owner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Diane Gonzalez, a historic preservationist who worked to get Old Town its landmark status, said it's "very, very rare" to lose a historic home that has been granted protection.

Gonzalez said that perhaps neighbors took those protections for granted, or put too much stock in the owner's words that he would rehabilitate the home.

Either way, she said the situation was a learning process for everyone involved.

"Lot's of things went wrong," she said. "We thought he was going to save the building. Now, he says it's worse than he thought it was."

A worker sprays water on the demolished landmark home in Old Town Monday. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

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