Sunday, January 05, 2014

Say Goodbye to the 1896 George H. Phillips house

click images for larger view
If everything goes as intended, January 13th won't be a lucky day for this historic house on the 4600 block of North Magnolia. It's come to be known as the George H. Phillips house, although Phillips
George H,. Phillips
didn't move in until 1901, after he made his fortune, at the ripe age of 34, purchasing 14.5 million bushels to corner the corn market at the Chicago Board of Trade.

 “It is reported,” said the New York Times, ”that in his great corn deal 300 farmers in Iowa and Central Illinois were the backbone of his fight.  It was virtually a battle between these 300, led by Phillips, against the recognized forces of the market."  Philips shared his profits with the farmers and he himself was said to have cleared anywhere from $150,000 to over a million dollars.  The paperwork of the trading was so voluminous that Philips had to merge his company into a larger concern to untangle it.

According to a report in the Uptown Update, Phillips lived in the house until his death in 1916, after which it remained the home of his descendents, the latest of whom are selling to developers who want to cash in on the double-lot property by demolishing the house and replacing it with a six-flat.

There's only one slight problem.  The Sheridan Park section of Uptown in which the Phillips house is located was downzoned a while back specifically to stop its historic homes from being bulldozed for maxed-out structures crammed onto the tree-lined streets. After what was reported to be an incredibly acrimonious November meeting on the fate of the Phillips house, area residents in December voted down the upzoning at a community meeting sponsored by 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman. 

It's not like there's no interest in saving the property.  Although gutted by fire a few decades ago, those who have had a chance to tour the house say it still has many of its original features, including stained glass and ornate woodwork.  A realtor has written me that she had found someone interested in purchasing and restoring it, but the owners don't seem to be entertaining alternative offers, even all-cash ones.  One participant claims that at one of last month's meetings, the owner declared that the sale price was 525K for the developers, but triple that for anyone else. 

The building is rated orange on Landmarks Historic Resources survey.  The 90-day demolition delay that comes with that designation has expired, and the Commission has taken no action to save the building.   It's now set to be demolished on the 13th.

The owner's supporters trot out the usual argument that anyone should be able to do anything they want with their property to maximize its profitability (nuclear waste dump, anyone?), and if those owners assumed they'd automatically get the upzoning they wanted, its understandable.  In Chicago, zoning laws seem most often to exist only for those too poor or uninformed to simply hire one of the city's uber-connected zoning lawyers who can make strictures disappear almost at will.
And so, this is probably what will replace the Phillips house, at least for now, another empty lot looking out over cheek-to-jowl apartment blocks.   Cappleman is not legally bound to accept the  residents' vote against the upzoning, and it's unclear what political costs - if any - there would be in overriding it.
What is clear however, is that on Magnolia and neighboring streets, there's still a number of strikingly handsome historic homes that have somehow survived the long onslaught of increasingly drab apartment blocks.  
If the scorched-earth tactics deployed to destroy the Phillips house succeed, homes like these could also soon be history, and the architectural legacy of Sheridan Park needlessly erased for a monotonous pottage of absentee-landlord six-flats.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If the scorched-earth tactics deployed to destroy the Phillips house succeed..."

The new owners wish to demolish it. They own it. You don't. I don't understand this whole "the architecture is more legally powerful than the owner's right to do what he wants with his property" thing. It's odd.

Lynn Becker said...

So you don't believe in the rule of law? Or in your mind is the law just for "the little people"?

The facts are these: The owner wanted to break the law, to get an exemption from the law so they could make more money at the expense of the community and its character. Their demand was denied and now they're going to punish the law-abiding community by tearing down the house out of spite, even though there appears to be prospective buyers for it.

What don't you understand about how repulsive this is?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, then you must not understand the underlying principles of zoning either.

Anonymous said...

I never saw anything or observed anything that suggested the owners wanted to break the law. They wanted an upzoning and it wasn't granted.

They said from the very beginning they had plans to tear down the house if the law allowed it. The law allows it and they waited the required 90 days so now it's coming down.

The owners are being true to their word. Why is anyone shocked by that?

Lynn Becker said...

When someone wants to exempt themselves from the rules that govern everyone else, that's called breaking the law, no matter how neat the procedures may be.

Do you really expect us to believe that a vacant lot is a good investment for the owners? It makes sense only if they believe they can subvert the current law, supported by the community, that protects the neighborhood from still more overbuilding.

The owners being true to their word is not shocking. Their spitefulness, cynicism, and selling out their community for a big personal payday is.

Steve Schwartz said...

Dear anonymous,
Let me help you find your humanity: presume you watched some being you loved (a pet or a friend/family member) got sucked into the lake during a fierce storm. You'd like to do something about it, but you can't or shouldn't. It's just fate, it's nature that befell your loved one, so you objectively can't blame anyone (just like your "law" argument). Does your loss hurt any less? Do you just walk away and say "oh well, that the way life is..." NO - you forever wish the better outcome had occurred. These people are looking for that life preserver, or that rope and none of its working. They know what's being lost, and somehow all this happening within the letter of the law doesn't help soothe the outcome.

Brianbobcat said...

Isn't this area a landmarked district? Was there the attempt to landmark this to prevent demolition?

As for Anonymous, the woman who owns this doesn't care about putting up a new building, she cares about demolishing the current house. She has said that no matter what, it's coming down. She also is willing to sell it, for something like 10x what the developer has bought it for. That sounds like something that if it's not, should be illegal. If she wanted the amount the developer was offering, why shouldn't everyone be able to get in for that price? To raise it for some and not all is definitely discriminatory.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that the developer associated with this property is also seeking to raze another early Lakeview house (1020 W Oakdale), which is also following the 90-day demolition delay.

2013 was a good year for development, considering that well-over 500 frame and brick houses and flats were razed and replaced with still more cinder-block exercises in real estate investment.

National Register Historic Districts cover several northside neighborhoods, but their contributing structures are routinely razed. Despite our existing preservation tools (Demo Delay and down-zoning among others) and despite decades of research (both economic and social) showing the societal benefits of reusing existing buildings, these characteristic older areas of the city will reflect even more our society's unsustainable preoccupation with things which are new and easily disposed of.

Steve Shay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Shay said...

While not every old structure is historic, this one is. Those who "own" Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park are, to some degree, caretakers of legally protected works of art. One can't just bulldoze Wright houses, not for any price. Aldermen and developers need to be pressured, and held accountable for historic structures. Once these gems are gone, they are gone forever.

Like the old neighborhoods said...

I for one would rather have these old homes which is a part of the history of Architecture in Chicago stay standing instead of looking at a picture of what used to be standing on a lot. A few years ago I was driving past a beautiful red brick home that was being torn down on Winthrop near Glenlake. I parked my car and went to talk to the man standing in front of this home being destroyed and asked why. He had purchased this house, put it up for sale, and no one would pay him the asking price so he is removing it to put up a six flat of condos. I mentioned that we need to save and restore these beautiful old homes not destroy them. He said the old homes need to all be torn down and replaced they have outlived there usefulness.

Anonymous said...

"after which it remained the home of his descendents, the latest of whom are selling to developers..."

Not to be petty, but techinically the current owners are not his descendents: Mr. Rutherford was married to a descendent of Phillips who very sadly died a long time ago. His second wife seems to be extremely fixated on the demolition of her husband's 1st wife's family home.

Just making sure you have all the good gossip.

Anonymous said...

can some one clarify the current status of this property? The house is currently listed on real estate sales with a contingent offer. Properties move from active to contingent to pending to sold. This one has been contingent for a long time. That suggests that the buyer has some issues. Does anyone know for certain 1. Is the buyer a developer who wants to demolish it and build condos? 2. If the city is really going to demolish this property on Jan 13th., not likely that the buyer will close by then. Who then is paying for the demolition? The comments here suggest that the current owner is demolishing the building but the property has a sale offer on it

Anonymous said...

can some one clarify the current status of this property? The house is currently listed on real estate sales with a contingent offer. Properties move from active to contingent to pending to sold. This one has been contingent for a long time. That suggests that the buyer has some issues. Does anyone know for certain 1. Is the buyer a developer who wants to demolish it and build condos? 2. If the city is really going to demolish this property on Jan 13th., not likely that the buyer will close by then. Who then is paying for the demolition? The comments here suggest that the current owner is demolishing the building but the property has a sale offer on it

Anonymous said...

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH :

http://www.change.org/petitions/rahm-emanuel-stop-demolition-of-1896-landmark-george-h-phillips-house?share_id=fGMjveDbid&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=petition_invitation

Anonymous said...

There is and has never been a house known as the "George H. Phillips House" until that name was fabricated/created by Marty Tangora, the owner of the adjacent property to the 4642 house. The owner of the adjacent property is using a "save the house" approach to cover his own self interests about not wanting a new building next to his Victorian mansion. Hell, he would probably object to Frank Lloyd Wright building another six-flat on a street that is already lined with six-flats. His tactics certainly do not reflect well on the distinguished Landmarks Commission. So sad.

Lisa Anderson said...

Hi...This post is excellent.Thanks for sharing your experience. A nice home is a dream for everyone.