Efforts by a group of neighbors to force landmark status, and the restrictions and obligations that come with it, upon a building owned by the Sigma Chi Foundation failed on Aug.14, when City Council voted down the proposed designating ordinance. There was no discussion at all prior to the 7-2 vote.
The failure of the ordinance ends – for now – neighbors’ endeavors to save a building for which a demolition permit has already been granted. The vote further calls into question the effect of a law allowing neighbors to convince the City to proclaim a building landmark-protected, even against the wishes of the property’s owner.
The landmark application was filed by Jim Killross, who lives on Michigan Avenue, who argued the building, once the home of prolific Chicago-area architect John A. Nyden, deserves protection because of its architecture and the prominence of its builder and former owner. The process began in December 2016, when Mr. Killross initially submitted nominating papers.
Several neighbors of the Hinman Avenue structure spoke in favor of landmark status. Anne Langon called the building “a beautiful home.” She added, “If that building should go, it would be hugely upsetting.”
Another neighbor said, “I really don’t want to see 1726 torn down. … It’s a beautiful old place. “
John Lionberger said landmark buildings help anchor neighborhoods like the area surrounding the 1700 block of Hinman, and they are beautiful to look at.
A lawyer representing the Foundation, Manuel Flores, argued against landmark designation, as the Sigma Chi Foundation has done since the process began. The Foundation argued against the merit of Mr. Nyden as an architect, saying he was prolific but not particularly special. Nyden-designed buildings in Evanston include the Hahn Building and 708 Church Street building just north of Fountain Square, the 860 Hinman apartments, and several homes.
Mr. Flores also argued against the process and the innuendo engaged in by the neighbors. The Foundation “played by the rules at all times,” he said. “I take issue with the allegation we intentionally tried to harm the property.” Mr. Killross had argued the property owner failed to clean the gutters and otherwise refused to perform routine maintenance on the building.
Landmark status, if unwillingly imposed, can be seen as encroaching upon and violating an owner’s property rights by preventing free use of the property, said Mr. Flores. Sigma Chi was “blindsided when neighbors filed a landmark petition,” he said.
Ultimately, the City Council agreed with the Foundation, even though no one spoke publicly about the matter. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, voted in favor of involuntary landmark designation. The Foundation is now free to raze the building and continue with plans to build a new structure on the site.
The matter may not be at an end, however. At Call of the Wards, the last public part of a City Council meeting, Ald. Fiske made a referral seeking to include the 1726 building in an historic district. The other side of Hinman Avenue in that block is in an historic district, and placing a property in an historic district would impose similar restrictions upon property use.
Even if the City were to agree to Ald. Fiske’s request to include the 1726 Hinman building in the district, however, it may not be able to accomplish the change before the wrecking ball does its work.