Chicago To Landmark Home of Photographer Richard Nickel
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Oct. 21, 2009
It's not every day that an endangered historic building is saved in Chicago, but that's what happened earlier this month.
On Oct. 1, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted 7–3 to make the home of photographer Richard Nickel a preliminary landmark, saving its 1889 facade from potential demolition.
Nickel bought the Italianate house in Bucktown in 1969, and renovated the back of the former bakery. In 1972, while salvaging architectural elements from Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan's soon-to-be demolished Stock Exchange, he was killed when part of a staircase collapsed.
Nickel is "the patron saint of historic preservation in Chicago," says Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, which in January placed the house on its "Chicago Seven" list of the city's endangered buildings. In 1960, Nickel organized one of the country's first protests in support of a historic building—the Garrick Theater, also designed by Sullivan and Adler. The theater was razed, but "what came out of that Garrick Theater fight was our 1960 city ordinance," Fine says.
In July of this year, owner Raj Fernando applied for a permit to demolish the rear portion of the Nickel house. After the two-hour meeting Oct. 1, Fernando indicated that he will not stand in the way of the landmark process. (Fernando could not be reached for comment.)
"We sort of brokered this compromise that if [Fernando] consented to landmarking the building, we would not prevent him from doing alterations to the rear of it," says Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for Alderman Scott Waguespack.
City council likely will designate the building within a year, according to Brian Goeken, deputy commissioner of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. "If the owner consents, and consents quickly, it could be [landmarked in] as little as six months," Goeken says.
The compromise allows Fernando to proceed with his renovation project while preserving the facade of the building as a city landmark.
Fine admits that the solution isn't ideal, but notes that it does provide preservationists and residents with a significant win: "It's like every preservation scenario: We won't kill your mother, but we have to kill your sister," he says. "It's better than wholesale demolition. People will be able to walk by this building and say this was Richard Nickel's home.' It's protected."
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