HIGHLAND PARK – The long battle over a 95-year-old John Van Bergen home came to an end when the City Council voted in favor of a resolution rejecting the designation of the residential structure at 1570 Hawthorne Lane as a landmark.
The circa 1922 Prairie-style home originally was nominated for local landmark designation in May by Preservation Commissioner Lisa Temkin – against the owners’ wishes.
The Chicago Tribune previously reported that owners William and Karyn Silverstein bought the Hawthorne Lane property as a teardown with the intent of enlarging their backyard.
Temkin said the property owners’ attorney asked her to recuse herself because she lives in another John Van Bergen home. That’s when architect and preservationist Christopher Enck, a resident of Winnetka, stepped in.
Determined to save a circa 1928 landmarked home in Wilmette from demolition, Enck bought it from a developer for $10, moved it about two miles to northwest Evanston and put it back together. After he renovated that Van Bergen home, he hosted an open house at the end of August. He was one of several people who spoke at the January 23, 2017 City Council meeting:
“John Van Bergen has made contributions to the Prairie School movement and has a body of work in Highland Park,” said Enck. “The house maintains a significant amount of integrity and because it meets the criteria I encourage the City Council to landmark the Van Bergen house.”
Former Highland Park Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Barbara Thomas said, “It’s been alleged that the nomination to landmark this property is ‘tainted and inadvisable’ because of the original participation of one commissioner in the nomination,” she said. Thomas was referring to a written censure that Mayor Nancy Rotering sent to Temkin in December shortly before she completed serving eight years on the HPC. The mayor’s letter stated that although she didn’t do anything illegal, she still remained active when Enck took over the nomination, which “tainted the outcome of the commissioner’s deliberation.”
Thomas refuted that claim based on three reasons: The ordinance “not only allows, but directs commissioners to nominate properties for landmarking. Throughout the nominating process the ordinance was strictly followed with constant input, advice and support from corporation counsel. Lastly, the HPC found the property met the criteria for landmarking and the nomination was supported by the commission in a 6 to 0 vote.”
Thomas continued, “For the City Council to overturn the decision of the HPC is in effect to deny the HPC its mandated responsibility and to be in blatant disregard of our city’s ordinance.”
Harvey J. Barnett, lead counsel at Sperling & Slater representing owners William and Karyn Silverstein, shared a different viewpoint: “It’s a question of involuntarily taking of someone’s property,” said Barnett. “The landmark in perpetuity [means] the Silversteins would be caretakers of this piece of property and this dilapidated home and pay taxes for it. It was advertised as a teardown and had not been inhabited for a year and a half before the Silversteins purchased it.” It would cost between $500,000 and $600,000 to begin to rehabilitate the house, he added.
Councilman Anthony Blumberg is the liaison to the HPC and attended all of the meetings. Blumberg said he agreed with their findings that this house met the four criteria that the HPC identified. He defended the commission on a job well done, and explained the code that was identified by corporation council:
“The City Council has an obligation to make additional findings beyond those of the commission and that’s the difference between being a recommending body that specializes in the area of historic significance as the commission does and the City Council, which has the obligation to apply city policy and consider other issues,” said Blumberg. “We must find that the building has sufficient integrity of location, design, materials and workmanship to make it worthy of presentation before rehabilitation – not what it could be, but what it currently is. [Although] this is a John Van Bergen-designed house, I believe that it does not have integrity of location, design or materials that makes it worthy of rehabilitation and preservation and for that reason, I am voting in favor of the resolution (rejecting the designation of the residential structure at 1570 Hawthorne Lane as a landmark).”
Prior to the vote, as a former member of the Highland Park Historical Society who worked on the preservation of the Stupey Log Cabin, Councilman Alyssa Knobel recused herself to “avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” Mayor Rotering’s husband Rob Rotering is president of the Highland Park Historical Society. She said the owner of the house made a contribution to the Stupey Log Cabin “even though there’s no conflict of interest under any of the related statutes or the city’s ethical guidelines,” Mayor Rotering also recused herself, and turned the landmark discussion over to Councilwoman Kim Stone.
In a previous DailyNorthShore.com interview Temkin explained the significance of Van Bergen architecture: “Highland Park has more Van Bergens than Oak Park and River Forest have Frank Lloyd Wrights,” said Temkin. The architect also designed the circa 1927, Prairie-style Braeside Elementary School, according to Highland Park Historical Society. Van Bergen’s style was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, for whom he worked.