Fifteen years ago we purchased the last vacant parcel in Kenwood owned by the University of Chicago. At that time, the overgrown lot was frequented by dog lovers in the warm months, and city plows depositing mounds of snow in the winter.
Urban legend had it that the house that once graced Greenwood Avenue had been torn down in error. A professor renting the house came home one afternoon to find a wrecking crew on site, a neighbor told us. While that may seem improbable, every spring pieces of the house work their way through the warming soil. Bathroom tiles, cabinet hinges, shards of dinner plates – each find reminding us we are not the first to make a life here.
And so began a personal journey to understand the house we all build. Saul Bellow once remarked he could not walk a block here without remembering who had lived here and who had died here. “You have to live with all these extinguished lives,” he said, “and because you’ve encouraged your own sentimentality and nostalgia about a place, perhaps you feel it all the more.”
Susan’s Neighborhood Blog
Residents of Kenwood cherish their homes, in spite of the fact that these century old structures are often times an endless pit into which one throws hard earned dollars. Nevertheless year after year clay tile roofs are repaired, windows installed, copper replaced, lengths of board repainted and brickwork tuckpointed. Owning these properties is not an easy endeavor, yet for the most part residents play their part and understand both the joy and the responsibilities of living within a Landmark neighborhood. But clearly and unfortunately, this is not always the case.
The Italianate style began in England with the picturesque movement of the 1840s and emerged in this country where it captured a large audience through widely distributed pattern books that were packed with plans and home building advice. Prominent designers including Calvert Vaux and Alexander Jackson Davis published many plans for Italianate style homes. With nearly flat roofs, wide eaves and massive brackets, these homes suggested the romantic villas of Renaissance Italy, and by the late 1860s the fashion swept through North America.
Essentially an embellished box, the simplicity and elegance of the Italianate house were tailored to structures for the wealthy and those less so. Regardless of the adaptation, the retrained design relied on a carefully crafted symmetrical façade. Brackets and other architecture details, made affordable by new methods of machine production, were easily then applied to the basic house.
Nestled behind an apartment building at 1357-1359 East 48th Street is a double house that dates back to the earliest days of Kenwood. In the spring of 1856 Dr. Jonathan Asa Kennicott, a graduate of Rush Medical College and practicing dentist, moved out of Chicago – as it was in his view becoming “too citified.” Kennicott and his wife Marie Antoinette Fiske, a well-known painter and educator, purchased eight acres south of the city. He christened the land “Kenwood” after his mother’s birthplace near Edinburgh, Scotland, and the family constructed a residence at 4802 Madison (Dorchester) Avenue. The new, solidly constructed house had one of the most magnificent gardens and vineyards in the area, set above the surrounding wooded pastures on a high ridge that is visible on Dorchester to this day.
Built on the Kennicott grounds is a double house that survived nearly intact for a century and a half. Until this month. The alteration of the façade is a disgrace to the community – to those who constructed the house, to those who fought for the Landmark designation, and for those who do maintain these houses for future generations. How did the owners receive a building permit, and approval from the Chicago Commission on Landmarks, to allow such a mess of a rehab to take place? Granted not all homeowners have the financial ability to complete a historically correct renovation, but are there not options that respect the importance of our collective history?
You can help and your opinion matters – a start is to call 311 and Alderman Will Burns to report the violation.
Residents of Kenwood cherish their homes, in spite of the fact that these century old structures are often times an endless pit into which one throws hard earned dollars. Nevertheless year after year clay tile roofs are repaired, windows installed, copper replaced, lengths of board repainted and brickwork tuckpointed. Owning these properties is not an […]
The ground level of the house at the southwest corner of 48th and Greenwood just always seemed too high. Not in the sense of the ridges that once ran diagonally across the landscape of Hyde Park, but specifically and oddly too high just in one place. The driveway at the back of the lot was […]
Respected Hyde Park Alderman Leon Despres had long argued for preservation, believing that while it is not possible to preserve every old building, it was necessary to do all one could to preserve “creatively and constructively.” Despres thought protecting historic urban areas required making some sacrifices, yet was a “sign of a society’s cultural maturity.” […]
One of the benefits of writing the series of articles for the Herald is the outreach of the paper. We received a call from the great-grandson of Paul Cornell, John Cornell, who currently resides in Florida. Mr. Cornell saw one of the articles and called to find where he could purchase the book, Chicago’s Historic Hyde Park. In […]