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140-Year-Old Cottage Torn Down In The Gold Coast: 'This Was History'

By David Matthews | November 22, 2016 5:30am

GOLD COAST — A little workers' cottage that stood for 140 years in the Gold Coast is gone. 

A developer tore down the century-old cottage at 1241 N. State St. earlier this month in favor of a new, three-story luxury home. 

The two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot cottage was the last one standing in the Gold Coast, a neighborhood better known now for stately mansions and mid-century high-rises. 

But in 1872, the year the cottage was built, the neighborhood wasn't even known as the Gold Coast. It was a graveyard. The cottage was one of many built for laborers tasked with rebuilding the city after the Chicago Fire. 

"People didn't understand this was history," said neighbor Susan Messinger, who grabbed a brick from the demolition site. "It should have been kept, but what can you do?"

The cottage stayed as the rest of the neighborhood rose up, and the property last sold 50 years ago, said listing agent Stefanie Lavelle of Coldwell Banker. Local homebuilder Bloomfield Development paid $1.5 million in June for the cottage after its owner died, and applied for a demolition permit soon after.

City officials gave the cottage a respite by placing it on its three-month demolition delay list — a courtesy given to properties with enough historic significance. But that time ran out, and the home didn't meet enough criteria to be protected from demolition.

Jim Schueller, Bloomfield Development's president, said he's yet to determine many specifics of the new house he's building on the cottage's lot, but said it will be a "very beautiful family home" that's "in character with the neighborhood."

The cottage meant a lot to local preservationist Ward Miller, who grew up in the Gold Coast and used to pass it on his way to grade school. The cottage didn't just harken back to the neighborhood's modest roots, but also Chicago's fledgling rebirth after the fire. The home was built a decade before the Potter Palmer Mansion, which established what's now called the Gold Coast as a destination for the city's elite. 

Not too many workers' cottages are left in town, Miller said. 

"As each one of these buildings come down you just whittle away more of the city’s architectural integrity and that great story of Chicago," he said.

Miller, who leads the Preservation Chicago group, said the cottage would have been tough to save on its own. It was in complete disrepair, lacked a working kitchen, and would have taken an estimated $1 million to make habitable again. The architect and other information necessary for landmarks protection was lacking.

But Miller is hoping he can use the cottage's demolition as an opportunity for another conversation: landmarking the whole neighborhood. Astor Street, which is often regarded as the nicest street in the Gold Coast, was designated a landmark district in 1975. 

Miller now eyes a landmark district stretching from roughly Division Street to North Avenue between State and Dearborn parkways, but such designation can take more than a year for City Council approval.

"This would be one of the great landmark districts in Chicago if this were to come about," he said.

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