Another Demolition in Kenilworth
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Oct. 1, 2008
The Chicago suburb known as ground zero for "teardowns" may lose its oldest house next year. In July, the owners of an 1860s farmhouse in Kenilworth, Ill., filed an application for demolition. Although the village determined on Sept. 15 that the 1860s farmhouse is historically significant, and enacted a six-month delay, the owners will be free to raze their property in March.
That's just what Robert and Lisa Mathias did to their 19th-century house last week. In October 2007, the couple filed an application to raze the $2.2 million residence, designed by Franklin Burnham and remodeled by Prairie School architect George Maher. A village commission deemed the house historically significant, but even a six-month delay could not save the property.
"The village had meetings with the owner to seek alternatives to demolition, and at the end of the six-month-delay period, they decided to proceed with demolition," says Susan Criezis, the village's community development director.
The Mathias family turned down offers to remove doors and a staircase from the house, according to Eric Nordstrom, owner of Chicago-based Urban Remains. "I was very saddened that the owners chose to wreck everything in the house, even items that could have been easily re-used," says Nefrette Halim, a real-estate agent who specializes in restorations. "That decision was irrationally wasteful from a historical perspective and an environmental perspective."
Kenilworth, a village of 830 historic houses, established its six-month delay ordinance in 2001. Since then, a commission has reviewed 41 demolition applications and determined 13 houses to be historically significant. Of those 13, only four were not bulldozed. In 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Kenilworth one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Now Kenilworth residents are locked in a battle over whether to nominate the village as a National Register Historic District. Some homeowners feel the designation will protect their historic properties. Others worry that it will places limits on what they can do with their homes. Even if approved, the designation would do little to curb the teardown trend: A listing on the National Register cannot prevent private demolition. Only local laws can impose delays or deny teardowns.
"Even with a National Register district in place, these demolitions would still be permitted," says Lisa DiChiera, advocacy director for Chicago-based Landmarks Illinois.
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