Harper greystones deserve preservation

Antheus Capital’s decision demolish three historic greystones on the 5100 block of Harper Avenue to pave the site for parking has, in our view, no redeeming justification. We fear the announcement marks a turning point in the way the New Jersey-based company is thinking about its responsibilities in the neighborhood.

When Antheus founder Eli Unger publicly appeared in Hyde Park after a massive acquisition of properties in the neighborhood, he generally impressed even skeptical community members as thoughtful and responsive. Over the years, Eli has committed to affordable housing development alongside his market-rate projects, made investments in the local public schools and even reversed decisions when the community clearly opposed his choices.

Now Antheus representative Peter Cassel tells us that the greystones at 5110-5114 S. Harper Ave. will be demolished to make way for a parking lot for City Hyde Park, the company’s high-rise development at the former site of the Village Foods shopping center. The reason, he tells us plainly, is that it will cost more to rehab the property than Antheus is willing to spend. This begs the question, why buy the property in the first place?

The developments north and south of 52nd Street on Harper Avenue seem to see the street in radically different terms. While the University of Chicago’s Harper Court development — and the redevelopment of the Harper Theater — treat Harper Avenue as a destination, Antheus’ decision to demolish turn-of-the-century, irreplaceable historic housing to build a parking lot suggests that Unger and Cassel see Harper as little more than an alleyway, a delivery site for a development that will face Lake Park Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard and treat Harper Avenue as the rear of its property.

Neighbors, we are certain, see the street differently.

If Antheus is willing to buy a historic property now to tear it down for a paid parking lot, what is to stop the company from doing the same with other historic properties in the neighborhood? And if Unger is willing to make a decision so out-of-keeping with the values of our community in this case, is this the start of a new relationship with Hyde Park, one that is based solely on cold calculations and the bottom line?

Just at the moment of Harper Avenue’s renewal, Antheus seems to be literally turning its back on the future of the street. The decision casts a pall over the company’s efforts to earn the trust of Hyde Parkers in the past and could force some to reconsider that first impression of Unger.