A first glance, it doesn’t look like much. Perhaps even the second and third glance you may not see the appeal. The home at 4716/4722 Tennessee in the 25th Ward should not be razed.
The above home is on today’s agenda at the Preservation Board, a developer seeks to raze the home. In its current state, it looks pretty rough. For years this home was covered in a newer “low maintenance” siding which is now half removed. With the lower windows boarded and the dormer windows removed the home looks much worse than it really is.
As I had long suspected, the original clapboard siding was hiding under the newer siding and remains in amazingly good condition. The porch is original.
Even though the front door is now boarded you can see the original transom peaking out above the red partical board. The original porch detailing is a rare find these days. A portion of the rear foundation is damaged but certainly repairable.
A later back stoop is falling down, as it has been doing for years. You see, I know this particular building better than most as I lived next door for 10 years.
Above is the 2-family I purchased in August 1994 and sold in January 2006 after having moved into my current place a few blocks away in the fall of 2004. Having lived next door, I knew the owners of the property during this period and through many conversations, much of the history of the structure. I have attempted to reach the prior owners but I could not track down them down.
Before I explain some of the interesting history, however, I want to talk about the demolition review process and where things have gone wrong. Ald. Kirner, whom I challenged in the March 2005 election, is under the impression it is her responsibility to broker deals and if she can’t make a deal for a purchaser then it is OK to allow a building to be razed. Aldermen should not be brokering real estate deals. Demolitions should not hinge on their ability to make a deal or not.
The Preservation Review ordinance has a number of criteria which must be met in order to permit a building within Preservation Review Districts to be razed. We will see if the appliant provides sufficient information to meet the criteria. I believe if the house were sold by itself, without the extra building lots between it and my old place, that someone would be interested in buying and rehabbing it. I attempted to explain this concept to Ald. Kirner a couple of weeks ago but I don’t think she got it — she kept talking about trying to see if a previous guy was interested in buying it. Remember, I am the licensed real estate salesperson, not her.
Back to the history.
When I purchased my 2-family in 1994 I bought it from John Held, of Held Florist next door. His grandfather had purchased the old frame house along with quite a bit of land on both sides in 1904. The only thing on the land, besides the frame house, were some greenhouses — the house and greenhouses dated to the 19th century. The Held’s continued the tradition of raising & selling the plants on this land. Over time the business passed to John’s father who built my 2-family in 1924. I was the first person, outside the Held family, to own this 2-family. At the time, in 1994, the frame house, extra lots, greenhouses with storefront and florist business were all for sale. John Held was ready to retire and his kids didn’t want to continue the business. For a brief time I considered buying the whole mess and going into the nursery business — but as a group it was way too much for me to take on. It was too much for anyone really as it had not been as cared for as it should have.
The entire collection sold in 1998 — about five years after he started selling it. The new owner, Michael Dunham, bought the property and business and did a good job starting to clean the place up until he became ill. He was in recovery in the country for a few years and the future of the property was uncertain. He was not able to return to the business and once again the entire collection of real estate was put on the market. Last year it sold but this time a new step was taken – the commercial storefront with greenhouse was legally separated from the frame house and adjacent vacant lots. An excellent move in my view, allowing the new owner of the storefront and greenhouse to renovate that structure (which she has done) without the burden of the rest.
And now a developer wants to raze the frame house and construct three new houses on the site. Although I was sitting in Ald. Kirner’s office at city hall, I was not shown any drawings of the proposed houses. The agenda for tonight’s meeting is not yet posted so I do not know what is planned for the site — other than three new houses. I just cannot support razing a viable 19th century house for some as yet unseen project from unknown developers with an unknown track record — neither should the Preservation Board. As many of you will recall, it has been 18 months since the Preservation Board approved razing the Doering Mansion on Broadway and yet construction has not begun on the replacement project — and that was with a well-known developer with an excellent track record.
I believe the current owners need to plan for two new homes on the vacant land while marketing the existing home with a narrow yard. With alley access new owners of the old frame house could construct a garage out back. If more living space is required, a new addition to the rear could easily be blended in with this frame structure. Again, I’m just saying before we toss the building aside see if anyone is interested — the house has never once been for sale by itself — it has always been part of a bigger ensemble.
The home is a classic center stair house — very 19th century. The kitchen, located in the south end, was remodeled in the 1950s I would guess. The north end is a living room. Upstairs are two rooms. The basement is the best part — it contains a brick barrel vaulted meat locker which would make an excellent wine cellar. The home has a nice presence on the street which is a hodge podge of various styles and periods although most date to the early 20th century. Three new homes were constructed in the late 1990s on the south end of the street at Delor.
Once again we are going about this all wrong. The proposed development is a secret, the elected legislator is playing real estate deal maker and lack of any real design standards could mean a proposal for front-garage houses despite an alley serving the land. I doubt we will have much more information at 4pm when the Preservation Board takes up this and other matters.
The meeting is held on the 12th floor of 1015 Locust.
CORRECTION: Today’s meeting will be held at 4pm in Room 208 (Kennedy Hearing Room) in city hall.
Ald Kirner can be contacted here. The Preservation Board can be reached via the Cultural Resources staff here.
UPDATE 6/25/07 @ 10:15pm
This evening the Preservation upheld the staff denial of the demolition request — the house is safe for now. I will use this as a case study in a separate post to talk about some of the issues this brings up as they relate to the Preservation Review ordinance. In short, the appliant failed to meet the various requirements in the ordinance necessary to justify the demolition. The big question is what next? Hopefully the house can get rehabbed (by current or future owner) and a couple of new houses can get constructed on the balance of the site.
In preparing for today’s meeting I ran across a picture I took in March 1994 when I was looking to buy the place next door: