“The oldest house in the Austin neighborhood is on its way to becoming an official Chicago landmark. The 152-year-old Seth Warner house located at 631 N. Central Ave. — built in 1869 as a gentleman’s farm — received unanimous approval Thursday from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in its bid for landmark status. Next stop is City Council’s Zoning Committee and then a full council vote.
“‘It’s an integral part of the great Chicago story,’ said Max Chavez of Preservation Chicago, who spoke in favor of the landmark designation.
“Apart from predating the Great Fire of 1871, itself a rarity among Chicago landmarks, there are layers upon layers of heritage associated with the opulent house. Warner himself was a fascinating figure, according to preservationists, establishing one of the city’s first music venues, Warner Hall, where he frequently hosted abolitionist meetings.
“In choosing Austin for his grand home, he lured other ‘pioneers’ to what was then the hinterlands. Today, the house stands as a reminder of the community’s rural roots. At one point, the house was converted to a hotel during the famed 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and between the 1920s and 1970s served as the base for various music schools.
“Owner Jim Bowers said he and his wife ‘probably bit off more than we could chew’ in purchasing the house, which is in an ongoing state of restoration, with scaffolding visible on the second floor. Still, he said he remains ‘blown away’ by the beauty of the home’s original light fixtures, marble fireplaces and walnut woodwork. The hope, he said, is that the landmark status will draw attention to and spark further interest and investment in Austin.
“‘It’s truly a slam dunk of a landmark designation,’ said Lisa Dichiera of Landmarks Illinois, speaking in support of the building’s application. As Dichiera noted, the Warner house is one of Chicago’s few ‘red-rated’ buildings not already landmarked. The red rating was assigned to just 300 buildings in the 1995 Chicago Historic Resources Survey, denoting properties of architectural or historical significance in the broader context of the city, state or country.” (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 12/2/21)
We are thrilled by this outcome. Preservation Chicago has been diligently working towards the Chicago Landmark Designation of the Seth Warner House for many years. Our increased organizing and advocacy in Austin centered around the very early coach house at 710 N Lotus Avenue help to build the necessary momentum to galvanize the support of all stakeholders and decision makers. To accelerate the process, Preservation Chicago contributed to the research and writing necessary to generate the Landmark Designation Report.
Bravo to owners Jim Bowers and Cynthia Weaver for making the decision to pursue a Landmark Designation. They are outstanding stewards of this early and important Chicago home. Hopefully this Landmark Designation will support their ongoing restoration efforts. We also hope that their leadership will encourage neighbors in Austin to consider a Landmark District to protect many of the other early homes nearby.