To the Editor:
On July 10, 1892, the Chicago Tribune ran a classified ad for “one 12-room and one 16-room stone residence (new)” at 5112 and 5114 Jefferson. Jefferson Avenue was the original name for Harper Avenue, and this ad is the earliest newspaper mention of the greystone townhouses at 5510-5114 S. Harper, which Antheus Property owns and now intends to demolish.
The original owner of the greystones was Charles H. Knapp, whose property adjoined the home of Paul Cornell, the founder of Hyde Park. The buildings were high-end Richardsonian Romanesque designs, and their original beauty is still readily apparent today, despite years of neglect and the steel security screens that presently cover the windows and doors.
When Antheus bought the greystones in 2008, it announced it did so “with the specific intention of eliminating blight in the community.” Antheus representative Peter Cassel was quoted in a July 2, 2008 Herald article as saying that the firm would undertake a complete gut rehabilitation that would likely result in nine new apartments. He further assured the community that the exterior would remain unchanged. “This facade is un-buildable today,” he added. “The real crime would be to let it deteriorate so far that it would have to be torn down.”
Why has Antheus changed its tune? The buildings are irreplaceable — a rare physical connection to the life and times of Paul Cornell. They could be repurposed as rental apartments, affordable housing units, professional offices, restaurants, boutiques or even a bed and breakfast. One interesting aspect of the property that has not yet been pointed out is the building’s unusual (for this block) setback from the street. The deep front yard could be used to create a pleasant outdoor cafe, a small tot lot, or some other public space. If Antheus isn’t interested in pursuing any of these options, why not sell the property to someone who is? If the firm is truly interested in eliminating blight in the community, why would it destroy a valuable historic building and replace it with a parking lot?
On November 20 of last year, the Herald published a fine editorial decrying Antheus’s announcement of its intention to demolish the Harper greystones. Since then, silence. This letter is written in the hope of awakening the community to the plight of these greystones, and of persuading Antheus to reconsider its decision.