Home demolition on Woodlawn Avenue exposes landmark designation default

The historic home at 5549 S. Woodlawn Ave. was recently demolished. While the home was in a historic neighborhood, it did not have landmark protection. - David Schalliol

The historic home at 5549 S. Woodlawn Ave. was recently demolished. While the home was in a historic neighborhood, it did not have landmark protection. – David Schalliol

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

A recent demolition on Woodlawn Ave. is shedding light on an important issue for homeowners in the area, that landmark protection is absent for the majority of homes on Woodlawn Ave., between 55th and 58th streets.

The historic house at 5549 S. Woodlawn Ave. has now completely been demolished. The process for demolition of the home started at the beginning of November. The house was built in 1888 and was the second oldest building on Woodlawn Avenue, between 47th and 58th streets.

The current owners obtained a demolition permit from the Chicago Department of Buildings and are planning to build a new house on site.

Michal Safar, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society, thinks it is important for residents in the area to know that the landmark designation does not extend to all areas in Hyde Park.

“There is no protection, anyone can file a permit to demolish there is nothing to stop it,” Safar said. “It is up to the residents on Woodlawn Ave., to decide how they want to handle it.”

In 2012, there was a push by residents to get landmark distinction for the area. The Woodlawn Avenue Corridor was publicly discussed but according to Safar, half of the affected property owners were for the proposal but the neighbors did not present the proposal to the Chicago Landmarks Commission for action.

“At that time the University of Chicago, in cooperation with the community and the City of Chicago, did agree to protect the 13 buildings it owns but the buildings owned by other institutions and owned privately remain unprotected, “Safar said.

If a home has landmark designation, then a permit for demolition is required to reviewed by the City Council and then moves on to the Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks for approval.

Through this process, the Demolition-Delay Ordinance, adopted by City Council in 2003, establishes a hold of up to 90 days for individual historic buildings, so that the Department of Planning and Development can explore other options to preserve the building.

The ordinance applies to buildings rated “red” or “orange” in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS), the historic home at 5549 S. Woodlawn does not fall into either category.

“Without coordinated awareness and action by Woodlawn Avenue residents that ensures they have reasonable expectations of one another, the historic character of Hyde Park’s Woodlawn Avenue that we all enjoy could be lost, and lost quite quickly,” Safar said.

t.hill@hpherald.com