The following statement was issued by The Hyde Park Historical Society on November 23, 2016 and is reprinted with their consent.
Historic House on Woodlawn Avenue in Hyde Park Is Demolished
The historic house at 5549 S. Woodlawn Avenue was built in 1888 and was the second oldest building on Woodlawn Avenue between 47th and 58th Streets. Built with a wooden frame and stucco coating, it predates the annexation of Hyde Park Township into Chicago in 1889 when wood construction was outlawed and masonry structures were mandated. The current owners obtained a demolition permit from the Chicago Department of Buildings with plans to build a new house on the site. The demolition started during the first week in November and is now complete.
Woodlawn Avenue is the ‘Main Street’ of Hyde Park and Kenwood. The Kenwood portion of the street, between 47th and 51st, is composed of large historic houses built just before and after 1900. These houses are protected from demolition and non-historic facade alteration as part of the Kenwood Historic District established in 1979. Since then property values have soared and the public appearance of the historic streetscape has been both maintained and enhanced.
The section of Woodlawn Avenue between 55th and 58th streets in Hyde Park is equally grand and historically important. Until now there have been no demolitions there since Urban Renewal 60 years ago. This current demolition reminds us there is no protection against demolitions of more of these historic buildings in the future. With property values escalating at a record rate, each and every building is a potential tear-down.
In 2012 a ‘Woodlawn Avenue Corridor’ landmark district was publicly discussed. Although more than 50% of the affected property owners were in favor, the neighbors did not present this proposal to the Chicago Landmarks Commission for action. At that time the University of Chicago, in cooperation with the community and the City of Chicago, did agree to protect 13 buildings it owns, but the buildings owned by other institutions and owned privately remain unprotected.
The demolition of 5549 Woodlawn Avenue serves as a warning to the residents of the street and to the community that our ‘Main Street’ is vulnerable. As citizens we enjoy property rights, but as members of a community we also enjoy the civic right of co-ownership of our shared environment. Without coordinated awareness and action by Woodlawn Avenue residents that ensures they have reasonable expectations of one another, the historic character of Hyde Park’s Woodlawn Avenue that we all enjoy could be lost, and lost quite quickly.