HIGHLAND PARK – The decision of whether a Highland Park home will move onto the next step of becoming a designated landmark against the owners’ wishes has been postponed until Novemeber 10.
Only four commissioners were present at the October 25 Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) Special Meeting, and five votes were needed to bring the nomination of a a 94-year-old John Van Bergen home before the Highland Park City Council. The vote was three to one in favor of the designated landmark.
“We voted to close the public hearing and we voted to ask staff to create a Findings of Fact document for the November 10 HPC meeting, “said Lisa Temkin, commissioner of the HPC. “This document basically summarizes the commission’s beliefs regarding the John Van Bergen home at 1570 Hawthorne Lane.
Temkin said two commissioners were called away on business, and another was out of town. “She was willing to call in, but she couldn’t be on the phone for over two hours, which was understandable.”
The commissioners who missed the meeting will have a chance to review all of the material that was presented, and there could be additional discussion. “Then a super majority vote is needed, which means that out of seven commissioners, at least five have to support the nomination for it to go to City Council,” said Temkin.
The circa 1922 Prairie-style home at 1570 Hawthorne Lane originally was nominated for local landmark designation in May by Temkin, but she said the property owners’s 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.
“Van Bergen lived in Highland Park and has such a large body of work there that I would hate to see any of his designs demolished, because not only do you lose some of the architectural fabric of the community, but some of the contents of his work,” said Enck in a July interview with DailyNorthShore.com.
Van Bergen, who was known for his Prairie-style architecture, built more homes in Highland Park than in Oak Park and River Forest, said Temkin. He 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.
Temkin said a public hearing is the last step for the petitioner or property owner to have expert witnesses come and give their opinion and provide evidence to support or against landmarking the house. “There were people that spoke in favor of landmarking the house and people that were not in favor of it. We couldn’t do the vote in terms of whether or not we should send this to City Council, but we were able to complete the public hearing portion.”
The Chicago Tribune previously reported that owners Willian and Karyn Silverstein bought the Hawthorne Lane property as a teardown with the intent of enlarging their backyard. DailyNorthShore.com spoke to Harvey J. Barnett, lead counsel at Sperling & Slater. Barnett explained the Silverstein’s view that this is a “Draconian effort to landmark a home that was advertised as a teardown. It would take close to $600,000 to rehabilitate the house with air conditioning, heating and electrical,” he said in a summary of his presentation at the HPC meeting. He also cited cracks in the concrete, and a crumbling structure.
He said the house should not be used as a “poster child for involuntarily landmarking, which hasn’t been done in Highland Park since 2007.”
Barnett was referring to the 1921 A. G. Becker Estate at 405 Sheridan Road, which was landmarked without owner consent. “The Becker Estate had a Jens Jensen landscape and the house was built by Howard Van Doren Shaw,” said Temkin.
“If this becomes a precedent for involuntarily landmarking there are at least 50 architects on the National Historic Register,” said Barnett. “It’s not good for Highland Park, the credibility of the commission, and for my clients. It’s a losing situation all around.”
Barnett said the Silversteins do not wish to comment. Lastly, he added that the landmark requirements do not comply with the HPC’s “criteria with additions and alterations.”
Temkin respectively disagreed. She said there are nine criteria for landmark homes and the HPC supports four of them. “We’re a city commission and this criteria comes from the Federal Government of the National Park Service,” she said. “I’m sorry that the owners of 1570 Hawthorne believe the house should be torn down. It doesn’t change the fact that it meets criteria for landmarking and that’s what our commission is tasked with doing — making recommendations to City Council to landmark important structures and landscapes.”