Letter to the Editor by Gary Doyle: In a victory for historic preservation, the timeless beauty of Lake Bluff, the graceful streetscape of Sunrise Avenue and the voice of the people, 512 Sunrise has been spared the wrecking ball – for now. On Wednesday June 10 the Historic Preservation Commission revealed that the owner of 512 Sunrise has withdrawn his application for demolition.
While this is excellent news, Lake Bluff’s historic preservation regulations remain the weakest on the North Shore, and should 512’s owner decide in the future to knock it down, he’ll have to wait four months – just four months – to do so. This despite 512 Sunrise being named a historic landmark by the Village itself. It’s a strange and illogical notion that local resident Stuart Walker addressed in remarks to the HPC meeting June 10.
Now is the time to strengthen our preservation regulations, so the next time 512 Sunrise comes up for demolition, it will at least be more difficult to do so. If you agree, please call the Village Hall at 847-234-0774. Or write our Board of Trustees President, Kathy O’Hara, at [email protected] Or attend one of the hearings that are going on about this issue as we speak.
Thank you. And thank you for everyone who took the time to write the Village on behalf of 512 Sunrise and historic preservation in general. Your help and passion is much appreciated.
Stuart Walker’s words are well worth a read — here they are in their entirety, published with Stuart’s permission.
To the HPC,
My name is Stuart Walker and I live on Foss Court in Lake Bluff. My wife, Margaret, and I have lived here in the same house for 20 years and raised our 2 daughters who are now in college. Margaret grew up 2 blocks from our current house. Our intention is to retire here and I look forward to those days when I’ll actually have the time to fully enjoy all the town has to offer.
I’ll make this brief: I’ve never stood in front of any Lake Bluff council or any of its dedicated boards to give my thoughts on the decisions that are made on our behalf. I’ve blissfully defaulted to letting others do that very well for me, as the end product of those decisions have netted us a pretty spectacular place we all call home. And I thank all of those who give of their time to make that a reality – sacrifices made which none of us should take for granted.
That said, my only regret is that I have never spoken out about the one misstep I see every now and then that I find particularly troubling, and that is developers/architects/individuals who take advantage of our village’s seemingly more lax set of restrictions for their own sole benefit. In the first years after we moved into our house, back in the slash-and-build 90’s, I witnessed a particularly unique and graceful house on the ravine on Witchwood purchased by a developer (who had hidden his identity, by the way) who promptly bulldozed the house and threw up not 2, but 3 lot-line to lot-line houses on what was ONE beautiful and heavily-oaked lot. And my first thought was “well that’s not’s really what we had in mind when we chose this town: in theory, what if everyone was allowed to do that?” The answer is, we’d live in Lake Naperville.
My point is this: I don’t want to live in Naperville, or Evanston, or even Lake Forest (and that’s where I grew up). I don’t think anyone here does. We all moved here because we were intoxicated by its understated charm that earned it the honor of being one of Coastal Living’s “Happiest Seaside Towns in America”. Lake Forest didn’t win that honor. Lake Bluff did – for a reason. And a big part of that is its history, which is the very first thing the article mentions as being at the core of our town’s appeal. And the portal to that history is our homes — their period-significant architecture and the stories told within their aging walls over time. They may not be the houses with the latest architectural wizardry, but they have what only the passage of time can beget, and that’s character. And every time we allow a house that fits that description, like this particular house on Sunrise, to be bulldozed, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. We can’t manufacture a new one and, ultimately, it’s just a slow slog to changing the face of our town irreversibly.
A gentleman spoke at the last HPC meeting in an effort to understand what the rules here are exactly. He said we need to define the rules and all play by them, and that sentimentality shouldn’t play a part in that. And that bending vague rules based on perceived sentimentality wasn’t fair. I simply disagree with that. If history is important to the village of Lake Bluff and its character, then we should acknowledge that history IS about sentiment. I believe sentiment has a very CRUCIAL role in determining what we allow our residents to do. We ARE the sum of our parts and what one of us does affect us all, whether we like it or not. We owe each other the courtesy of maintaining what we all bought into.
The rules to me seem simple: If a change a homeowner wants to make detracts from the character of the village as we know it, and subtracts from the experience as we all absorb it collectively, then why allow it? That said, is permanently removing a house that has been deemed historically significant subtracting or adding?
I don’t personally know the owners of this house. I’m sure they’re fine people, and my words here are not designed to single them out. I’m speaking now because I keep seeing houses like this disappear in our unique village, and it’s reached enough of a critical mass for me to make my opinion known.
I spend 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, on the Edens and Kennedy because I get to come home to a town I can’t find anywhere else. And if we change the basic foundations of what got us to this point, however slowly over the course of time that may happen, be it one house at a time, then we’ve allowed something to slip away that could have been prevented with a little discipline and better acknowledgment of the virtues of sentiment.
There’s a noted architectural critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, who passed a few years back, who once wrote something that’s relevant here: “We will probably be judged NOT by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed”. A message with which I think we’d all agree.
This Letter to the Editor is from Gary Doyle of Lake Bluff. Letters to the Editor represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of Daily North Shore.