THREATENED: Ravenswood Manor Considers Chicago Landmark District to Prevent New Wave of Demolition

Ravenswood Manor has a “picture graceful, tree-lined streets; tidy 100-year-old single-family homes beautifully crafted from brick and stucco; blooming gardens; and a centrally located park where the community gathers for summer concerts, Easter egg hunts and a Fourth of July parade.” (Wetli, Chicago Curbed, 5/30/18)

Established in 1909 as a sub-division by developer William Harmon, many of the original single family homes remain and the historic streetwall is very much intact.

However, development pressure has begun to impact the neighborhood and take a toll on the historic homes. A decade ago, when the Ravenswood Manor was approved for the National Register, 91 percent of its buildings contributed to the district’s historic character. Today, due to demolition or alterations, only 83 percent do, according to the Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association (RMIA). Included in the losses are three of the original 10 model homes built by William Harmon.
Historic homes have been steadily demolished and replaced in recent years. One extreme example of how powerless the community is to provide any meaningful oversight for new construction was an “as-of-right rehabilitation of an existing building” in 2016. Except for a few structural elements, a home was completely rebuilt. The new design is profoundly out-of-character with the historic neighborhood.

“When you lose your oldest, most unique houses, that’s your wake-up call. The reality is, all those teardowns comply with zoning,” he said. “Are our hands tied to control really bad things? I think we’d be derelict not to at least look at the tools we can use,” said Jim Peters, RMIA vice president and head of the organization’s zoning committee. (Wetli, Chicago Curbed, 5/30/18)

Ravenswood Manor community leaders have proposed creating a Designation Chicago Landmark District to help protect the neighborhood from additional waves of demolition and new construction. Informational block club meetings will be held throughout May and June to inform neighbors about the landmark designation process and potential benefits. While there is widespread support for the effort, its essential that common myths and misperceptions be countered with facts and data. Most studies have empirically shown that the creation of landmark districts has a positive impact on property values and decreases speculative development. Most restrictions are focused on limiting dramatic change the front façade as seen from the street.

The RMIA engaged architectural historian Terry Tatum to explore the possibility of landmark designation and create a report which will likely be presented to the Commission of Chicago Landmarks later in the process. According to Tatum’s report, “aspects that work in the Manor’s favor include its historic role in the development of Chicago along transit lines, the district’s distinctive and recognizable sense of place, and the craftsmanship and high quality building materials exemplified in its homes.” (Wetli, Chicago Curbed, 5/30/18)

“We know change it going to happen, it’s constant,” said Peters. “It’s a question of how do you manage the change.” (Wetli, Chicago Curbed, 5/30/18)

Residents who have questions regarding the landmark designation can reach out to the RMIA board at landmarkdistrict@ravenswoodmanor.com.

Additional Reading

Ravenswood Manor weighs Landmark District application to preserve neighborhood’s charm, Patty Wetli, Curbed Chicago, 5/30/18

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