Words by Donald Liebenson / Photography by Christopher Enck and Robin Subar
A local project engineer saves a 1928 historical home from a developer’s wrecking ball.
The British have an expression for when they relocate: “Move house.” Last March, Winnetka resident Christopher Enck took that literally. Enck, an architect, coordinated the nearly eight-hour, “Wages of Fear”-like crawl of trucks that carried a near-century-old Prairie-style house to its new location on a vacant lot in Evanston. The home had to be cut into three sections to make the one-mile-an-hour journey.
And you thought your last move was a hassle.
The historic 1928 structure, known as the Irving House, was designed by John Van Bergen, an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally located on Isabella Street in Wilmette, the home was slated for demolition by a developer. Enck, a project engineer for the Chicago-based Klein and Hoffman, an architectural and structural restoration company, also serves on the Skyline Council, a young professionals initiative of Landmarks Illinois.
“That’s how I learned about the house,” he says. “I knew it was identified as being endangered, so I offered to help look into the possibility of moving it. I ended up spearheading the effort.”
Enck is a fan of Prairie-style architecture and Van Bergen, a noted architect whose homes primarily dot the northern suburbs (for a time he lived in Highland Park). But Enck’s connection to Van Bergen dates back to his childhood. He attended the Van Bergen-designed Fox River Country Day School.
He was also sensitive to the Irving House’s seeming fate to be torn down by a developer who wanted to rebuild on the site. “In the early 2000s, the teardown issue was really widespread in the suburbs,” Enck says. “It was not nearly as big a problem when the housing market slowed down, but as the market has rebounded, there have been an increasing number of teardowns.”
Enck saw moving the house as a practical and manageable alternative to demolition and he put his money where his mouth was: $10.
Long story short, that is the price for which the developer eventually agreed to sell the house to Enck. “He was not interested in preserving the house himself,” Enck says, “but he was very cooperative and willing to basically give the house away. He postponed his own project a couple of months.”
That was a fraught time as Enck raced against the clock