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Saving the city's historic graystones
By Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune architecture critic
Published April 20, 2006

Like the humble bungalow, the handsome graystone is an essential part of the housing stock that makes Chicago Chicago.

At once muscular and graceful, occupying a midway point in the socio-economic spectrum between the bungalow and the mansion, the graystone stretches in a belt that runs roughly from Lakeview on the north to Garfield Park on the west to Bronzeville on the south.

Now, facing the twin ravages of decay and gentrification, the graystone may be getting the same kind of help that has allowed bungalows throughout Chicago to be preserved and renovated to meet today's needs.

The plan, scheduled to be formally announced in June, is called the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative (which uses an alternative spelling of graystone). Still taking shape and to be limited at first to the poor, drug-infested North Lawndale neighborhood, it is backed by Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, a non-profit devoted to rebuilding the city's neighborhoods. Besides saving buildings, the group wants to avoid the displacement of residents if and when the neighborhood redevelops.

"The buildings are great. And there's a lot of them. We're trying to figure out how to preserve them for people who are already living in them," said Bruce Gottschall, the group's executive director.

"I want North Lawndale to be known not for bad heroin but for exquisite graystones," added Charles Leeks, the originator of the program and the director of the group's North Lawndale office. He was referring to an incident in Lawndale last week in which seven people were treated at hospitals after using free samples of a batch of new heroin being doled out by drug dealers.

The graystone plan is modeled, in both name and approach, on the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative, a partnership between the city and private businesses. The bungalow initiative relies on a combination of financing programs and technical assistance to spur the renovation of the humble brick homes that make up a third of the city's housing stock. Hundreds of homeowners have participated in its financial incentives.

"We're partnering with the city on this. The city has committed both attention and some assistance," Gottschall said, though he declined to specify how much money the city would funnel to the program. Faced in ornately carved Indiana limestone, the graystones are brick structures that typically contain anywhere from one to three units. Some have arches that reflect Romanesque architecture. Others have classical decoration that shows the influence of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Still others have crenelated tops that resemble castles. Most were built between the 1890s and the 1920s.

North Lawndale is a good place to begin the graystone initiative because it has about 1,700 historic graystones and it lies directly in the path of the gentrification sweeping westward from neighborhoods such as Tri-Taylor, said Brent Ryan, co-director of the City Design Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of a university report on the North Lawndale graystones.

Historic preservationists applauded the plan, saying it could aid graystones that are either vacant or decayed but still salvageable.

"This gets at areas where it could be a great stabilizing influence," said Jim Peters, director of planning for the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, an advocacy group. "The whole point is to encourage homeownership by people living there before speculators come in and snatch them up."

Details of the plan are expected to be announced in early June.

- On Thursday night, some of the principal antagonists in the acrimonious debate over the proposed rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina will be in Chicago for what promises to be a spirited panel discussion at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave.

They are John Norquist, former Milwaukee mayor who is president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, and Reed Kroloff, an ardent modernist and dean of Tulane University's school of architecture.

The New Urbanists believe that traditional town planning, which uses codes to regulate architectural form and urban design, is an antidote to suburban sprawl. But modernists charge that the New Urbanism is really the New Suburbanism -- a sentimental version of city life.

These debates are no longer academic. Last October, at the behest of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the New Urbanists created plans for 11 towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On Tuesday, they were to begin a brainstorming session, known as a charrette, in the New Orleans community of Gentilly, their first major post-hurricane effort in the city.

The moderator for the panel, titled "Rebuilding and Re-envisioning the Gulf Coast," is foundation curator Ned Cramer, who used to work with Kroloff at Architecture magazine. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and $10 for foundation members. The program starts at 6 p.m. Call 312-922-3432, ext. 225.

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147,933 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Chicago's endangered landmark law still hanging on
Challenge to city's historic districts remains tied up in court

Chicago Tribune

Aug. 06 - Whenever Jim Peters, president of the Landmarks Illinois advocacy group, goes to conferences with other historic preservationists around the country, he gets asked the same question: "What's up in the case?"

"The case" is shorthand for a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Chicago property owners, real estate executive Albert Hanna and real estate agent Carol Mrowka, that aims a dagger at the heart of Chicago's landmarks law.

Since early 2009, when the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the law is unconstitutionally vague, historic preservationists have anxiously awaited a resolution of the matter. Property-rights advocates have viewed the battle with equal interest, hoping it would curb what they consider to be abuses of municipalities' power to protect historic buildings and districts.

Now, after the Illinois Supreme Court denied an appeal from the city of Chicago, the case is back where it began -- in Cook County Circuit Court before Judge Sophia Hall, who has scheduled an Aug. 27 hearing. None of the major issues have been resolved, but because the lawsuit also challenges the legality of two city landmark districts, the Appellate Court ruling has already had what Peters calls a "chilling effect."

Although Chicago continues to designate individual buildings at its usual pace, the rate at which it protects landmark districts, which take in groups of significant buildings, has perceptibly slowed. The city designated three districts in 2006, four in 2007 and two in both 2008 and 2009, according to Brian Goeken, who heads the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. But since the appellate ruling, Chicago has not started plans for a single district.

Peters, a former commission staff member, ascribes the change to a caution bred by legal uncertainty and political reality. "The last thing you want is to get even more folks angered," he said.

Jonathan Fine, executive director of the local advocacy group Preservation Chicago, explains the slowdown differently. "What is missing in 2010 that we had in 2005 was the hyper-inflated real estate development market," he said. "It was that real demolition frenzy that was initiating these landmarking discussions at that time."

Whatever the reason for the shift, the stakes are potentially huge. Chicago has 293 individual landmarks and 53 landmark districts, a trove of historic buildings that includes such masterpieces as Louis Sullivan's former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. store on State Street and Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House in Hyde Park. The city uses seven standards to decide which buildings and districts are protected. And those standards typically use words like "significant," as in the site of significant historical event or a building that is the work of a significant architect.

Other cities, such as New York and Boston, use comparable language in their landmark laws, so the attack on Chicago's law is viewed as an attack on their laws as well. Were the Chicago law to be struck down, preservationists fear, the legal challenge could spread to other cities while property owners here would be emboldened to contest the landmark status of their properties, bringing on a new round of demolitions.

Still, preservationists can point with satisfaction to the fact that Chicago's 42-year-old landmark law remains in place. It was widely expected that, once the case returned to the circuit court, Hall would have no choice but to follow the Appellate Court ruling and declare the law invalid. So far, she has not done that.

Instead, according to Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department, the judge has split the case into two parts. The first, which concerns the high-profile challenge to the landmark law, is on hold. The other, which focuses on the validity of the two landmark districts that are being contested, is the subject of the Aug. 27 hearing.

Hanna lives in an ornate, century-old, single-family home in the Arlington-Deming District, an assortment of high-quality Lincoln Park buildings built between 1872 and 1946. Mrowka lives in a worker's cottage in the East Village District, a cluster of Northwest Side cottages and small, flat buildings constructed from 1883 through the 1920s.

Their lawyer, Thomas Ramsdell, calls the districts "arbitrary and capricious." The ulterior motive for creating them, he argues, was to stop the spread of large new houses that were infiltrating the neighborhoods.

In recent months, Hall granted the city's motion to dismiss the legal challenge to the districts, but allowed Ramsdell to amend that part of his case by Aug. 27. No substantive ruling is expected at the hearing, Hoyle said. And going forward, no one knows how -- or when -- the case will finally be resolved.

For preservationists, the interlude has come at a good time because the recession has slowed development. But if the case drags on and the economy picks up steam again, watch out: From graystones to bungalows, Queen Annes to two flats, the neighborhood fabric of Chicago will again be vulnerable to destruction.

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Someone in the know told me once that most of these graystones were made with a type of Indiana
limestone that is supposedly no longer available. It would be quite difficult to make them like they used

In any case, I hope that the law stands.

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