Letters to the Editor

Ruling is not discouraging us

To the Editor:

Last week the judge hearing the McMobil zoning case, Kathleen M. Pantle, granted a motion filed by the University of Chicago’s lawyers to dismiss our lawsuit. The motion alleged that the title company we hired to mail required notices miscalculated the property boundaries and thus failed to notify seven property owners on the east side of Dorchester Avenue. We are disappointed by the judge’s ruling. There is no precedent in case law for dismissal of a zoning suit on the basis of alleged procedural errors by a party making a good faith effort to give notice, though suits have been dismissed when no notices whatsoever were sent. We intend to pursue all legal avenues available to us to appeal this decision.

On behalf of myself and my fellow plaintiffs, I would like to thank the many supporters who have backed us over the last six months, and also to remind everyone that we are moving ahead vigorously with this. We continue to believe that the proposed development at the McMobil site is grossly out of scale with the surrounding area, that the university’s agenda in developing that site is out of sync with the desires of the neighborhood, and that the university has so far avoided a meaningful discussion of this issue. If the judge had allowed the case to go forward, we would now be preparing to have that conversation in court. Now any discussion in the courtroom of the merits of the case will be delayed for some time while the appeals process unfolds.

Our position has always been in favor of development at the McMobil site, but we want the right building for that site, and this is the wrong one. (As always, there are more details at save53rdstreet.org.) The judge’s procedural ruling does not lessen our commitment to work towards a 53rd Street that will be best for the future of Hyde Park. The community and the U. of C. are not identical. What the U. of C. thinks best isn’t necessarily good for the community.

Michael Scott

Deal with your dogs!

To the Editor:

If we gripe and moan about the mess the geese leave behind, why don’t we say anything about the poop that the dog walkers leave behind? In summer we seem to understand how to keep our communities free of dog’s poop. Once cold weather hits, we seem to forget how to take a plastic bag with us, and clean up after them. I don’t get it. So it’s a little cold outside. So the Park Service and city reduce the trash bins. We can hold onto the plastic bag, and drop it off at the bin in our alleys, or next to our house. Is that too difficult?

Elizabeth Wyman
(A dog lover)

Antheus greystone turnaround baffles

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.

Leslie Hudson
Ruth Knack

Looking for improved ward services

To the Editor:

My name is Larry A. Green, and I am a new resident to Hyde Park. I must say that it is hard for me to understand the love affair that Hyde Parkers have with their current alderman, Will Burns. The ward does a terrible job with snow removal on the side streets – as was evident on Kimbark Avenue and 52nd Street left untouched by snow plows for days. It took me three calls to the alderman’s office and two to the 4th Ward Streets and Sanitation office before finally, on Wednesday Jan. 8, after Sunday’s snow fall, a plow came through. If this was the 1400 block of North Dearborn, I would not have to write this letter. I urge others to let the alderman know that this has to change or maybe the rising star of Alderman Burns needs not shine so brightly.

Larry A. Green

Hyde Park is coming into its own

To the Editor:

There are so many reasons to visit Hyde Park. The excitement on 53rd Street is intoxicating; retail stores, people young and old, fine dining and much more. Who would have thought? In 2001, I opened my law practice in the Hyde Park Bank building; I have seen the ups and downs of my business and others. While there was always traffic in the bank; there was always something missing. The revitalization is exactly what was needed. Simply stated, it’s good for business and it’s good for the community.

One of my daily rituals, during my lunch hour, is to walk around the community. Recently, I did just that, and this time there was energy like never before. I saw long lines to get into a few restaurants, people enjoying the new Starbucks and browsing through the different shops.

I am a Hyde Parker and I work in my community. A community rich in diversity, and compassionate about our convictions. It is a choice I made and I am glad I stayed around to see all that it has become and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Arnold Toole

Distance between bus stops too long

To the Editor:

I am a regular bus rider on the 47th Street bus with the last stop being 47th and Lake Park, where I have to catch the No. 6 going south to my job on 53rd and Hyde Park. The problem is the bus stop between 47th and Lake Park and the No. 6 is too far away one-and-a-half to two blocks at best.

When you try and run to catch the bus [it] usually pulls away, even though the drivers have to see you running, and then it’s a 15 to 20 minute wait for the next bus, in winter it’s awful.

I have seen people in wheel chairs, on walkers, mothers with strollers and small children, etc. trying to run from one stop to the next, it’s simply too far away.

I have talked to supervisors, bus drivers, called 1-888-YOUR-CTA to no avail. So I decided to write to you the voice of Hyde Park. Thanking you in advance for whatever you can do.

Alice Smith

A bad idea rears its ugly head again

To the Editor:

Once again, there is yet another move in the City Council to rename our landmark Chicago Cultural Center the “Eleanor Daley Cultural Center.” Such an action, for various reasons, would be inappropriate.

Our historic, splendid and beautiful cultural center, formerly the Central Library Building, should continue to honor in its name the world-renowned cultural reputation of our great city and not a figurehead personality, however well-respected.

Downtown Chicago certainly does not need another Daley Center, which would be a source of exasperated confusion for visitors to our city. Renaming the Cultural Center would also obliterate the memory of various dedicated people, including representatives of GAR veterans, who in conjunction with the former Chicago Heritage Committee, strove long and hard over an eight-year period (1965-1973) in an historic and concerted campaign to save the building from proposed demolition.

Mrs. Daley’s role in this story was a subsidiary one at best, occurring in February 1972, when she admitted to reporters who encountered her that she had an affection for the old library and did not want to see it torn down. Both she and the mayor remained closed-mouth about the issue throughout the campaign and neither issued a public statement either favoring or opposing preservation. When queried in later years about proposals for Cultural Center renaming, she candidly responded that she considered Chicago as the best name for the place. We should respect her wishes.

If there is a desire to honor Mrs. Daley’s memory, the present fourth-floor exhibit hall could be named for her, or a plaque could be placed within the building. I think we can all agree that our esteemed and treasured Chicago Cultural Center already has the perfect name!

Charles Staples

Kenwood’s endangered Frank Lloyd Wright houses

To the Editor:

The Blossom and McArthur Houses in Kenwood are important early designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, and their interiors are world-class works of art. The seeds of everything Wright eventually accomplished, from the Robie House to the Guggenheim, are already germinating at the corner of 49th Street and Kenwood Avenue.

At 122 years of age, both houses are now in need of substantial repair, inside and out. Although the architectural features are still largely intact, extensive and expensive work is needed to bring them back to their original beauty. The two current families have lived in their houses since the mid-1950s and are now ready to move on, leaving the care and restoration of these important houses to new owners. Since the houses are in the Kenwood Landmark District, the City of Chicago will take responsibility that all future exterior work will be faithful to Wright’s original designs. But the interiors of the houses, which are by far their most important feature, enjoy no protection at all.

The presence of the Blossom and McArthur Houses significantly enhances the prestige of the neighborhood. The loss of the interiors, through neglect or thoughtless remodeling, would be a tragedy for American architectural history and a disgrace for Kenwood.

We are part of a group of neighbors working together to help find ways to preserve these important Frank Lloyd Wright houses. If you would like to have more information or offer your support, please visit us at: wright4kenwood.org.

Michael Aranoff
Mary Margaret Bell
David Ehrmann
Eleanor Hall
Hannah Hayes
Stan Izen
Kineret Jaffe
Suzanne Martin
Mindy Schwartz, MD
Jean Snyder
Hart Weichselbaum
Karen Wilson
Thomas Wynn

It’s too late to yearn for B&B project

To the Editor:

The articles and letters about the pros and cons of B&Bs in Kenwood are interesting, but isn’t the point moot? I assume that the Tawani Foundation has withdrawn its offers for the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses. For good reasons. There are plenty of interesting historic properties all over Chicago with which it can work – including similar Frank Lloyd Wrights. It does not need these two houses. And if I were them, I would not want to work in Kenwood after the meeting at the Episcopal Church on Nov. 18. I thought that meeting was an embarrassment. We residents of Kenwood came across as totally provincial – lacking any grace or savvy. Not distinguishing between Tawani’s highly unusual proposal and other pedestrian development proposals.

The meeting was also disappointing because there was no real discussion of the issues involved. The plug got pulled in response to what I would characterize as a group of school-yard bullies. I came to the meeting dubious about the project, but like a lot of people, was intimidated by the immediate negative outburst. Led, I might say, by one of my dearest friends, so I should have been able to speak up.
I did not, and do not, fear that the two B&Bs proposed by the Foundation would cause the collapse of our neighborhood or undermine its character. Indeed, as proposed, they would have most likely added to its quality:

  • If Tawani’s other projects are indicative of its restoration work, it would have created two architectural gems to add to our historic renown — including restoration of their interiors. One of which, the Blossom House, is of national and international importance.
  • The visitors that the B&Bs would have attracted to the neighborhood (those willing to pay $200 or $250 a night to sleep in a Frank Lloyd Wright house) would not have detracted from the sterling character of we full-time residents. And indeed, they most likely would have acted as ambassadors to the rest of the world: testifying what a wonderful neighborhood Kenwood is and, more generally, how pleasant it is to spend time on Chicago’s South Side.
  • And many of us would have loved to have interesting accommodations nearby in which to house visiting family or friends when there are too many for our own houses.

My problem with the proposed uses was that I did not understand Tawani’s business plan. Even if I accepted that it never expected to recapture the massive up-front investment in restoration, I did not think that the B&Bs would even break even when they were operating. My friends, who have tried to operate B&Bs with their own and their children’s labor, had a really hard time making a profit. I feared that these enterprises would fail. I wanted to know what plan B would be. Those fears were allayed by the architectural restrictions Tawani was willing to place on the buildings for any future owners. If I were still head of the Chicago Landmarks Commission, I would have touted them as an extraordinary model for owners of important buildings anywhere. I am sure none of us current Kenwood residents are willing to preserve our homes through future owners to the extent that these people were.

I still would have loved to have heard more about the economics of the proposed project. It seems to me that once the buildings were restored that there might be other more economically viable alternatives. For example, could they be used as high prestige residences for important visiting scholars or dignitaries that are in Chicago for extended periods of time – maybe with the university or maybe with the future presidential library or maybe other institutions in the city? There probably would have been other interesting ideas that evening that never got expressed. I am confident of the insights and ideas my neighbors can generate and would have loved to heard them.

But most important, no one, including myself, stopped to thank Jennifer Pritzker and the Tawani Foundation for considering this extraordinary investment in our neighborhood. Perhaps Ald. Burns can extend some gesture to the Foundation that says: despite the impressions from the meeting in the church, Kenwood residents can be neighborly and welcoming to new ideas and concepts.

Chuck Thurow

Setting the record straight at the Village

To the Editor:

We fear some statements in Daschell Phillips’ article in the Dec. 25 issue of the Hyde Park Herald will give incorrect impressions about our plans for the Chicago Hyde Park Village (CHPV).

The Village will not be a senior center or social welfare agency.  However, the absence of such services in our community increases the importance of the kind of help and support that the Village will provide.

When it opens officially, CHPV will be a centralized source of information for members. It is also developing a comprehensive program for volunteers which will provide people of all ages with opportunities for sharing and participating in Village activities and services. Moreover, Village members will have access to volunteers who have been checked and trained to help them with a range of light tasks. Members will also have access to our lists of vetted and neighbor-recommended service providers. CHPV will continue to partner with other neighborhood groups and institutions to provide a variety of educational and social programs, such as our bi-weekly Drop-In program and our various entertainment and informational programs.

The major goal of Chicago Hyde Park Village is to encourage an “age friendly” environment in Hyde Park, where long-time residents feel comfortable and safe and newer arrivals can feel at home and welcome.

We are deeply grateful to our neighbors and local institutions for their tremendous help with our recent fundraiser. Their enthusiastic participation affirms that our neighbors want and support our mission. CHPV will open officially as soon as we raise sufficient funds to hire appropriate staff and to ensure that we can deliver the programs and services to fulfill our mission. People who would like more information about the potential for a village in Hyde Park can find information on the national village movement at vtvnetwork.org

In addition to financial support from Montgomery Place, its Unidine Food Service and the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, MAC Property Management was also a generous financial sponsor.

Susan Alitto
President, Chicago Hyde Park Village

Rebuffing B&B offer shames history

To the Editor:

Kenwood is justly proud of the magnificent homes that line its streets. With that in mind, I was saddened to read in the Herald of the controversy over two of its most important houses, Blossom and McArthur. My parents bought a house on Kimbark Avenue in 1950 for less than $20,000. Shortly thereafter my mother, Phyllis Will, and other “Kenwood ladies” formed the Kenwood Open House Committee to encourage others to purchase a home in our suburb in the city and prevent them from becoming rooming houses. Fast forward 60 years and we see the very significant long-term fruits of their labors as homes now regularly sell for well over a million dollars.

I believe my mother and her colleagues would also be saddened to see the community not supporting the restoration of these architecturally and historically significant buildings. I took the opportunity to tour them on Dec. 15 and was, once again, in awe of their beauty and the obvious work of Frank Lloyd Wright almost hidden inside them. I hope members of the community and the alderman will reconsider the very quick decision to deny permission to allow the houses to be rehabilitated and run as bed and breakfasts. A buyer with the resources to accomplish this and protect these gems should be embraced and encouraged. These buildings have long been a source of pride in the community and to deny the opportunity to return them to their earlier glory seems unthinkable.

Nikki Will Stein

University’s Douglas did not justify TIF cash

To the Editor:

I read, with interest, the letter of Derek Douglas, the University of Chicago’s vice president for Civic Engagement, in which he defended the $23.4 million dollar Tax Increment Financing (TIF) subsidy the university received for its Harper Court project.

According to Mr. Douglas, the purpose of the Harper Court project was “to bring new retail activity and new economic activity to the neighborhood.” Apparently, his point is that it was worthwhile to spend $23.4 million in TIF funds — including $11.7 million that should have gone to the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools — in order to build a university office building.

Yes, there is retail in the Harper Court development. However, much of this consists of national chains relocating within the neighborhood (the L.A. Fitness facility on 47th Street is scheduled to close next year). And yes, we did get two new national retailers — Chipotle and Ulta — though we lost local businesses Park 52 and Dixie Kitchen. Was it sensible to spend $11.7 million that should have gone to the public schools to do this?

Certainly, the university has its own interest in developing the neighborhood, and this has driven the university’s acquisitions along 53rd Street. While the university’s interests and those of the neighborhood coincide in many respects, this does not mean there is a mutual interest in taking money from the public schools to facilitate the university’s plans. Moreover, it would seem that properly funded public schools would make this neighborhood more attractive to university personnel.

According to Mr. Douglas, “among the university’s contributions [to the project] were the donation of a property that had cost the university $10 million, the university’s credit rating, and years of time and expertise.” However, the university did not “contribute” the property — it bought the property and has kept control over it, like its other real estate acquisitions in the neighborhood. Also, part of this property is a former city parking lot, which the city sold to the university for the nominal price of a dollar.

As for the university’s credit rating, it would seem that the university — with its multi-billion dollar endowment — had the wherewithal to build its office building without any subsidy at the expense of the public schools. Concerning the university’s time and expertise, it would seem that the university has been able to devote its time and expertise — without any TIF subsidy — to its other development projects.

Mr. Douglas offers a list of charitable and civic endeavors undertaken by the university, apparently as a justification for the subsidy the university received at the expense of our public school students. Are we to understand that when the university gives with one hand, it takes away with the other?

Conspicuously omitted from Mr. Douglas’s defense of the university’s TIF subsidy is any reference to how this subsidy did anything to implement the original objectives of the 53rd Street TIF, to provide for: (a) local schools; (b) street improvements (such as Clean Slate); and (c) parking, in our already congested neighborhood. This is consistent with the university’s policy of ignoring — if not undermining —these community objectives.

Marc Lipinski

B&B article ignores Kenwood history

To the Editor:

Lindsay Welbers’ Dec. 11, 2013 article regarding the desire of a commercial enterprise to develop two private homes in Kenwood solely for commercial — not residential owner-occupied —purposes, ignores certain salient facts regarding the prior history, and importance, of single-family, owner-occupied housing in homes originally designed for such purposes in Kenwood.

First, from a historical perspective, it is important to remember the original premise of the racially and economically diverse group of residents (primarily mothers) in the early 1960s who literally saved Kenwood from the “block-busters” (and formed the Kenwood Real Estate Committee that became the Kenwood Open House Committee) by insisting that the zoning for single-family, stand-alone homes be maintained as owner-occupied single-family, and that the illegal “boarding/rooming houses” of the post-World War II era be stopped before all of the neighborhood was destroyed.  Their efforts, memorialized on the Hyde Park – Kenwood Community Conference website (hydepark.org) and in articles such as the following from 1963 (bit.ly/JIzpDp) successfully led to the preservation of the high-quality, diverse neighborhood that exists today.

Second, Ms. Welbers and others who reference supposedly similar other B&Bs are not making parallel comparisons: the few other B&Bs noted are owner-occupied homes (e.g., Kossiakoff’s) in which the B&B function is only a small aspect of the overall home and is not a commercial enterprise in the mode of what appears to be contemplated by the Pritzker organization. In addition, the prior B&B projects of the Pritzker organization appear to be in mixed residential neighborhoods  — not stand-alone, single family home settings like Kenwood; rezoning would allow other commercial entities to come into the neighborhood with similar projects or multi-unit housing in single-home settings.

Carol B. Eckstein

FLW Conservancy hopes for another look at FLW houses

To the Editor:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy is the only organization focused exclusively on the preservation and maintenance of all the remaining structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (We own no Wright buildings but strive to protect them all.)  We work with the owners of private Wright-designed houses across the country as well as Wright sites that are open for public tours.

The Conservancy visited the Blossom and McArthur Houses last spring and was very glad to learn of the interest of Jennifer Pritzker in acquiring and restoring these houses and their auxiliary buildings. Though we have not seen the details of the proposed project, the Pritzker restoration track record is a strong one and we have no doubt that the project would be done with sensitivity and appropriateness and with the infusion of financial resources and preservation expertise that would assure a very positive outcome.

We were very disappointed to learn that apparently this possibility was rejected without careful examination due to concerns about introducing a transient element into the neighborhood.  

Several Wright private houses have been converted to overnight stay accommodations. We devoted one issue of our magazine to this topic, and profiled three, including the early 1950’s Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan — a community that parallels Hyde Park-Kenwood in terms of the university connection. The Palmer House owners have indicated that their guests fall generally into three groups: luminaries speaking or performing at the University of Michigan, out-of state parents of university students looking for special accommodations during visits and people who are passionate about architecture. The Blossom and McArthur House B&B project would be the only intact functioning Wright overnight, other than the recently restored Historic Park Inn in Mason City, Iowa, offering overnight accommodations in an architectural setting from Wright’s Prairie period or earlier. As such I believe it would attract special guests who have high disposable income, are concerned about architecture and preservation, and in general would be a respectful, appreciative and very desirable group.

We hope the neighborhood and Ald. Will Burns (4th) will take another look at this creative and well-funded proposal. It provides a neighborhood amenity (who wouldn’t like to suggest to their out-of-town visitors that they could stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright house right in the same neighborhood?) and would help maintain real estate values instead of the drag of a deteriorating site and continuing uncertainty about its future.  Most importantly from the Conservancy’s point of view, it would provide a very practical vehicle to ensure the preservation of these buildings that were keys to Wright’s early career and his development as an architect.  

Chicago is proud of its reputation as a city of great architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright is America’s greatest architect and Chicago is famous as the focal point of much of the first half of his remarkable career. The Blossom and McArthur Houses are important to that history and deserve special attention to determine how they can be well preserved and maintained.

Janet Halstead
Executive Director, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy