Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reagan Chicago Home Epitaph: "The Hearts Got Small"

By Mary Claire Kendall

Photograph of Ronald "Dutch" Reagan (with "Dutch boy" haircut), 
Neil Reagan (brother) and parents Jack and Nelle Reagan, ca. 1914, 
shortly before the family moved to the Chicago home at 832 E. 57th Street, 
which was callously demolished by the University of Chicago, April 2-4, 2013. 

The Reagan Chicago flat will be demolished today. Thus will the last remnants of the building, in which God was cultivating the soul of a president and that uniquely winning personality, be decimated.   Young Ronald “Dutch” Reagan developed memories there, which, as reported yesterday, and Drudge re-posted, he wrote about in his 1990 autobiography, An American Life:
When I was (three), we moved to Chicago where my father had gotten a promising job selling shoes at the Marshall Field’s department store. We moved into a small flat near the University of Chicago that was lighted by a single gas jet brought to life with the deposit of a quarter in a slot down the hall.  
Jack’s job didn’t pay as well as he had hoped, and that meant Nelle had to make a soup bone last several days and be creative in other ways with her cooking. On Saturdays, she usually sent my brother to the butcher with a request for some liver (liver wasn’t very popular in those days) to feed our family at—which didn’t exist. The liver became our Sunday dinner. 
In Chicago I got a serious case of bronchial pneumonia and while I was recuperating one of our neighbors brought me several of his son’s lead soldiers. I spent hours standing them up on the bed covers and pushing them back and forth in mock combat. To this day I get a little thrill out of seeing a cabinet full of toy soldiers. 
Our stay in Chicago introduced me to a congested urban world of gas-lit sidewalks and streets alive with people, carriages, trolley cars, and occasional automobiles. Once, while watching a clanging horse-drawn fire engine race past me with a cloud of steam rising behind it, I decided that it was my intention in life to become a fireman.  
After we’d been in Chicago for less than two years, Jack was offered a job at O.T. Johnson’s, a big department store in Galesburg 140 miles to the west of Chicago, and we moved again, this time to a completely different world. Instead of noisy streets and crowds of people, it consisted of meadows and caves, trees and streams, and the joys of small-town life. From that time onward, I guess I’ve always been partial to small towns and the outdoors.
On this morning, I guess I’m partial to small towns and the outdoors, too, Dutch.  And, while I encountered wonderful-hearted folks on my visits to Chicago—I’ve never gotten more compliments on my hat!—as I told Lee Bey, “To paraphrase Billy Wilder’s classic line in Sunset Boulevard, in the end, Reagan is still big. It’s the hearts that got small.” —“Bulldozers roll on Ronald Reagan's boyhood home in Hyde Park,” Beyond the Boat Tour. 

As President of the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home, I want to thank my wonderfully supportive board, including founding members Peter Hannaford and Matthew A. Rarey, and permanent members Don Totten, Dan Proft, Nicholas Hahn III and Matt. I also want to thank other members of my marvelous  “core team including true friends like Fr. C. John McCloskey, Dick Vie, Jeff Phillips, Paul Fisher, Joe Morris, John Ruberry, Sam Guard, Ann Lewis, Robert Russell, A.C. Lyles, Craig Shirley, Diana Banister—and, of course, the irrepressible late Redd Griffin, on whose behalf I took up this causeand so many others, some of whom had to work under the radar, given the “Chicago Way.” Some of my team provided only moral support, which was worth its weight in gold.  We worked hard to advance a just cause,” as Fr. C. John described it. But, it was not to be.

In front of President Reagan's Chicago home, 
832 E. 57th Street, Friday, November 30, wearing that hat that won so many compliments!
Credit: Matthew A. Rarey
And, so I return full-time to my first love—writing.  As my friend Charles Scribner III wrote me last night in this stress-melting classic line, “Monuments in words such as yours will always outlast bricks and mortar!” 

So, too, the monument Reagan constructed in An American Life has outlasted the home in which those memories about which he wrote were formed.

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer, who was elected on March 4, 2013 to serve as president of the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home by the Board of Directors.  She had been informally serving in that capacity since Friends incorporated in the State of Illinois on January 16, 2013. She began spearheading the initiative on November 30, 2012.

Articles in bold italics were either written (one co-written) by, or quote, 
Mary Claire Kendall, President, Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:'s-Home-in-Chicago,0,3481356.story

April 6, 2013—Correspondence with financial supporter:  

“You fought hard Mary Claire. You did your best and will be remembered for that.”  

“Thank you, Ed. And, thank you for your support. This week’s events cast a big neon light on the fissure in America today. Of course, Reagan’s Chicago home should have be saved—that was a no-brainer. That it wasn’t says nothing about Reagan but about how small the hearts have become, as I commented in my summary statement to Lee Bey in this piece. On the other hand, as one distinguished friend commented, it showed how much we cared. And if our effort accomplished anything, it accomplished that. Now we just need to translate that passion into winning the battles Ronald Reagan cared so deeply about.”

And, finally, here’s the link to our first blog, December 14-January 19.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chicago Tribune op-ed: "Save Reagan's Chicago Home"

Time is short... only a miracle will save President Reagan's Chicago home... the same kind of miracle that saved Reagan when an assassin's bullet felled and nearly killed him 32 years ago Saturday, when wrecking and demolition equipment showed up on the site of Reagan's Chicago home... and the same kind of miracle that saved him when he survived near-fatal pneumonia at the very home that is now poised to be demolished...,0,3481356.story
By Mary Claire Kendall
April 1, 2013

President Reagan is publicly sworn in for his second presidential term by Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger on January 21, 1985. Since January 20 was a Sunday that year, the official swearing in of Ronald Reagan took place privately in the White House. (Mike Sargent/AFP/Getty Images/January 21, 2013)
Here's a portion of President Reagan's speech that historic day.

The city of Chicago has given the go-ahead to Heneghan Wrecking and Excavating Co. to demolish, on behalf of the University of Chicago and its medical center, President Ronald Reagan's boyhood home on the South Side at 832 E. 57th St.

He lived there the year of the Eastland disaster. Occurring July 24, 1915, it was Chicago's most lethal calamity — deadlier than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 — killing some 844 people.

Word has it that Reagan reminisced about this steamship catastrophe on the Chicago River as a vivid early memory, recounting how he was left home when his father took his older brother "Moon" across town to see it.

While a source recently declined to "confirm or deny" this reminiscence, one thing's certain: Ronald Reagan, at age 4, lived in Chicago the day of the Eastland disaster. And it's good bet he didn't witness it since, if he had, that memory would surely have figured into his writings and speeches. Little Ronald "Dutch" Reagan must have resolved then to never again to be far from the scene of the action.

Right now, the action is at the home where Reagan once lived. It's all that's left of the entire block between Maryland and Drexel avenues on East 57th Street. The rest of the block was demolished in early January to make way for a hospital and research facility, across the street from the recently inaugurated University of Chicago Medicine's new Center for Care and Discovery. In the ultimate irony of history, these facilities will feature state-of-the-art Alzheimer's research.

That the Reagan home is still standing is a bit of a miracle. We all know the "Chicago Way."

The Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home has worked doggedly to save it, agreeing with the Commission of Chicago Landmarks in 1986 that it is "noteworthy due to historical associations," which gives it "landmark potential."

While the current crop of Chicago bureaucrats couldn't find it in their hearts to landmark the home, make no mistake, this home where Reagan lived is a landmark, which completes the Ronald Reagan Trail in Illinois, including the landmarked Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon (1920-23).

Later, Reagan had long-distance ties to Chicago. He broadcast Cubs games for WHO-AM in Des Moines and courted and married Nancy Davis, who hailed from the Near North Side.

One of Reagan's biggest successes as president was the 1986 tax bill, a product of an after-hours friendship with Chicago's principal ambassador to Washington, House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. They knew each other as fellow Chicagoans.

All of that was inconceivable when little "Dutch" looked out his window on East 57th, after surviving near-fatal pneumonia, longing to be at the center of the action.

If we demolish the physical context of his formative years, we extinguish an essential part of Reagan's story — a youngster who despite being the child of an itinerant, alcoholic, frequently unemployed shoe salesman, grew up to become the global symbol of freedom from tyranny and triumph over communism.

President Barack Obama, the second U.S. commander in chief with a home on Chicago's South Side, is likely justly proud of the improbability of his own story.

The two homes, blocks apart on different sides of the University of Chicago — one a spacious Kenwood home, the other a humble Irish working-class flat near Washington Park — work together to tell all Americans who we are now — and who any one of us might become.

It's the story of America. Reagan's boyhood home is worth preserving.

Mary Claire Kendall is president of the Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home.

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Razing Reagan" v. 'Saving Reagan'

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

We're in the endgame on the Reagan Chicago home, as these two articles in the Weekly Standard and Chicago Sun-Times make clear.

Please know, even though the City of Chicago refuses to landmark this home where Reagan lived when he was four, it is not over yet.  Frankly, the land-marking charade was always just a sideshow and only serves to reveal the 'small-mindedness' of the bureaucrats, as underscored in the The Weekly Standard's "Razing Reagan." 

We are working diligently to affect a change of heart at the University of Chicago, which owns the property and wants to demolish the Reagan home.  It's the only entity with the power to save this South Side Chicago home that had such emotional resonance for Reagan, about which Nick Hahn and I wrote in "Save the Chicago Home of Ronald Reagan."  

Robert J. Zimmer
University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer -
the only one with the power to save the Reagan Chicago home

As Reagan always said, "It Can Be Done."  But, time is short, and, frankly, it will take a miracle to affect a change of heart in University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer - the kind of miracle that saved four-year-old "Dutch" Reagan's life when he survived near-fatal pneumonia while living in the Chicago home we are now trying to save.  

Thanks for your support... and your prayers.


Mary Claire Kendall, President
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Who Will Be Our Ace in the Hole?

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, less than three days before Redd Griffin died, he called to update me on developments in the efforts to save the Reagan Chicago home.  I was too busy to talk - it was 5:45 p.m. (EST) and I was getting ready to go out. I told him I would need to call him back. But before we concluded our unusually brief, and what I would soon learn was our last, I asked him, "Redd, what's the bottom line? Who's the point person?"  He gave me a name. 

Redd Griffin
I had planned to call Redd Monday, November 19, but then when he sent me an email with all the Reagan residences that day, I used the opportunity to communicate via email, telling him how important it was to save the Chicago home because President Reagan had lived there at such a formative time. I fully intended to call Redd the next day. The next day was too late. Redd died of a massive heart attack early the morning of Tuesday, November 20.

On Wednesday, November 21, I called this "point person" and we developed a marvelous rapport when I traveled to Chicago on Friday, November 30 to Sunday, December 2 for a previously scheduled Hemingway-focused weekend Redd had invited me to.  But, alas, given the reality of "The Chicago Way," this "point person" has had to stay basically neutral.  I know if he could do more, he would; so I recently sent him the following letter, which I post as a way of presenting our approach to selling the powers-that-be on saving the Reagan Chicago home.

Let's hope someone will step up to the plate soon who will, indeed, be our "ace in the hole" - someone with the clout to convince the powers-that-be that preserving the Reagan home would be a 'win, win' for the University of Chicago and the City. We are certainly doing all we can to make this happen and have a follow-up call tomorrow morning.

God bless! Let's win one more for the Gipper.

And again, for those who are just tuning in, here's background on this national initiative, as well as our corporate purpose statement.

Finally, remember, we can't do this without your support. No donation is too small!

Mary Claire Kendall, President


Dear XXX,

I wanted to give you an update on the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home, which had its inaugural board meeting on Monday, March 4. Our board now consists of... Don Totten, Dan Proft, Nicholas Hahn, Matt Rarey (Secretary) and myself (President).

As you know, we are seeking to preserve Reagan’s home on the Southside—the only Chicago home of the only President born and bred in Illinois.

A key part of our strategy is to help key officials at the University of Chicago, as well as in the City, understand the tremendous upside to saving this home.  The goal is to develop it, in partnership with the university, into a museum and center, thereby completing the Reagan Trail, which starts in Tampico, immediately followed by Chicago. The museum would restore the home to its original 1915 splendor, showing what it was like back then when children such as Dutch Reagan, age 4, would look out their big windows—the equivalent of TV back then—and take in a whole bustling world that brightened their little lives.  The center would celebrate Reagan’s historic presidency and acknowledge his end of life struggle with Alzheimer’s that ironically the Center for Care and Discovery is now seeking a cure for.

Barring a miracle, we can’t possibly achieve our goal of raising $5-10 million by March 29, when the administrative hold on demolishing the building is lifted. These funds would allow us to develop a plan to transform the home as outlined above and put it on the table for the university’s consideration.  We would need an extension of 60-90 days and would like to know if the university is amenable to this.

Given that... Chicago ranked #4 in the Forbes list of most miserable cities to live in, our efforts are very timely. And, while this is no doubt a temporary condition—and I, for one, love Chicago—I can’t think of a better person than Mr. Sunshine and Optimism himself—Ronald Reagan—to help ensure it is more temporary than permanent.

Besides infusing the city with that Reagan magic, the Reagan Museum and Center would produce substantial travel and tourism dollars. If folks travel from around the world and across the fruited plain to visit tiny Tampico and small Dixon, they would surely travel to Chicago. This, of course, means jobs.

And, while everyone says, well the Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon—along with the Birthplace in Tampicois the place to go if you want to visit a Reagan home, the fact is, as our friend Redd Griffin made clear in this oral history, the whole reason for establishing the Dixon Boyhood Home was none other than economic development.

Now, I understand you are in a delicate position and I’m not asking you to go to bat to save the Chicago home and win one more for the Gipper.  But, what I thought would make sense is to ask you to go to bat to win one more for Chicago by making clear the potency of the Reagan Museum and Center for growth and jobs.  Just like William Butler Ogden, Chicago’s first mayor, who thought he had been victim of the worst swindle when his brother-in-law bought Chicago land in the early 1830s, only to discover the goldmine he was sitting on, it is my hope that the University of Chicago and City will understand, before it’s too late, what a goldmine they are sitting on with the Reagan Chicago home.

Thanks, XXX for anything you might do to gently bring this point home... 

Mary Claire Kendall, President

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Money, Big & Small: Sine Qua Non* of Saving Reagan's Chicago Home

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

I'll make this brief and to the point.

Major players are coming on board to help with fundraising, especially the overarching goal of raising significant funds needed to open negotiations with the University of Chicago to save President Reagan's Chicago home at 832 E. 57th Street and transform it into a museum and center.

Meantime, we are doing the final work of building the non-profit vehicle, the sine qua non, which takes much smaller funds. But, it does take funds - not just high-fives and 'atta boys and girls.' Our goal by the end of February is to raise $2000 more. Thus far, we have raised nearly $2000 over the last two months, including commitments to send money.  (And, we will need to raise $2000 more in March and April each.) We are deeply grateful to all those who have contributed thus far. Every little bit helps. No amount is too small.  (See right for information on donating.)

For those who are just tuning in, here's background on this national initiative, as well as our corporate purpose statement.

Finally, below are two photos, taken this week, showing the stately building where Reagan lived when he was four, now standing alone, like Reagan, himself, when he was a lone voice arguing for the defeat of Soviet Communism and the Liberal Welfare State.  But, he believed "It Can Be Done." The same exact spirit with which we are pursuing this mission to save Reagan's Chicago home.  Recently I have been encountering many who, in essence, tell me "It Can't Be Done."  With that defeatist spirit, it surely will not be done.  But, I remain convinced "It Can Be Done." Yet, time is short.  As the gentleman who took these photos, a key preservationist in Hyde Park told me, "Please remind your stalwarts that the Demolition Permit's administrative hold will expire in five weeks."

Let's win one more for the Gipper!

And, remember, no amount is too small.

Sincerely yours,
Mary Claire Kendall
Acting President/CEO
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home

* For those who are rusty on their Latin, "sine qua non" means "without which, nothing," which is to say, "the indispensable condition."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Win One More for the Gipper" and other press

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

For anyone who's been paying attention, we've been in the news a bit the last two weeks.

Just this past week, our newest board member Dan Proft, mentioned the whole effort to save President Reagan's Chicago home on the air on Wednesday, February 6, during his regular morning radio show on WLS, an ABC affiliate in Chicago.

Plus, we had a few pieces out in print this week, as we celebrated Ronald Reagan's 102nd birthday, including:

"Win One More for the Gipper," by Nicholas Hahn.

"Ronald Reagan's Heart: Two Emotional Landmarks," by Mary Claire Kendall

"The real story on Ronald Reagan's childhood home," by Mary Claire Kendall

Double rainbow that appeared over the birthplace of Ronald Reagan
the night before his election as President in November 1981.
He kept this photo is the top of his desk, considering it a good omen.
Also, I appeared on the Teri O'Brien radio show on Sunday, February 3.  Here's the link. For my appearance, go to 90:00 mins. in to about 102:00. (A little feedback issue 91:00-94:00)

For those who are tuning in for the first time, here's background on this national initiative, as well as our corporate purpose statement. And, please note, if we do not succeed in our main mission, net donations will go to the other homes on "The Ronald Reagan Trail" in Illinois.

Thanks for all your generous support. Every little bit helps. Quite simply this initiative would not exist but for your donations. (See information to the right on how to contribute. And, for those who would like to wire funds, I would be pleased to facilitate this. Just give me a call.)

Sincerely yours,
Mary Claire Kendall
Acting President/CEO
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home, Inc.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Preservation Chicago Nomination & Donations Update

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

Mr. Sam Guard of Hyde Park has nominated President Reagan's Chicago Home at 832 E. 57th Street for Preservation Chicago's annual "Chicago 7" list of endangered buildings.  (See nomination along with accompanying photos below.)

Also, you may now make donations to Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home via credit card. (See secure USA E-Pay Donate portal at right.)

For those who are tuning in for the first time, here's background on this national initiative as well as our corporate purpose statement.

Thanks for all your support.  Have a great weekend.

Please note, I'll be on the Teri O'Brien Show at 6:30 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, February 3, just as the Super Bowl kicks off, to talk about our national initiative.  [2/3 update: Here's my appearance - 90 minutes in to about 102 minutes. (A little feedback problem 91:00-94:00)]

Mary Claire
Acting President/CEO
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home

Nomination:  832-34 East 57th St., a 1900s 3-story, apartment building of architectural and historic significance;  rated  orange by Chicago Historic Resources Survey.   Demolition permit filed 12/27/12 by Heneghan Wrecking;  currently on 90-day hold.
Architectural Merit:  A superior example of masonry construction designed to optimize a small corner lot (40'x50'), yet provide attractive housing by means of the skillful use of a variety of materials and decorative detailing.   I find the spirit of Burnham-era Chicago embodied in this vernacular yellow-brick six-flat.
    The first photo shows the triple-arched entrance trimmed in limestone set flush against the sidewalk with overhanging corner bays.   Sideview in 2d photo shows spacious windows accented with stone keys, springline, and belt-course sills. 
    Image 3557 shows pressed-metal ornamentation of overscale tourelle with Classic leaf festoons.   In Image 3560 a corbelled brick frieze can be seen beneath the projecting cornice supported by brachiolia.   I think this building spoke to tenants with aspirations ! 
    Attachment 5 is the building's Data Form documenting its listing in the seminal Chicago Historic Resources Survey.   Please observe the entry: "Noteworthy due to historical associations."   
Historic Association:  From 1914 to 1915 (possibly 1917) this building was the Chicago home of Ronald Reagan.   He mentioned it in his autobiography, letters, and conversations.   He recalled the Eastland capsizing, Cottage Grove streetcars, friendly neighbors.
    ... (President Reagan's) first trip away from Washington (after the assassination attempt) was to a Labor Conference in Chicago where (Mayor Jane) Byrne presented him with a framed picture of his Chicago childhood home.   The 5th photo (below), devoid of construction fencing, shows to us the stately & dignified & stately quality of this structure. 
Endangerment:  832-34 E. 57th now has been absorbed into a 217-acre Planned Development (#43 as amended Jan. 10, 2013).   The site is scheduled for a future medical research center.   A recent newspaper article attached here.  
    An affinity group with headquarters in Washington wants to save the building for Adaptive Re-use as a medical conference center, or administration offices, classrooms, etc.   They are interested especially in Alzheimer education & research.   I have told them that the excellent condition of the building will assure another 100 years of re-useful life.
    They incorporated Jan. 16th as Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home, Inc.;  PO box 3772, Washington DC 20027-3772;  Telephone 301/625-4123.   They see this issue as one of national concern and, presently, are not affiliated with any local group.
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