Friday, January 25, 2013

Progress Report: Little Picture & Big Picture

Dear Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:

Two months ago today, on Friday, November 30, I stopped by President Reagan’s Chicago home, then poised for demolition, on my from Midway to the Palmer House, and decided it was a no-brainer it should be saved.  That day, Jack Spicer, Hyde Park Historical Society Preservation Committee Chair, told me that the property at 832 E. 57th Street, where President Reagan lived when he was four, would most likely be demolished by January 1, 2013. The same day, the Landmarks Commission told me that, in spite of Redd Griffin’s compelling submission (below), the home was not deemed worthy of landmark status.

I was soon joined by Peter Hannaford, Richard Allen and other key Reagan insiders and preservation devotees in this quest. Since then, we’ve made significant progress. 

In front of President Reagan's Chicago home,
832 E. 57th Street, Friday, November 30.
Credit: Matthew A. Rarey
After building our core team, including Shirley Banister Public Affairs, we began to publicize this national initiative to save President Reagan’s Chicago home starting with my “Hyde Park Showdown over Reagan's childhood home” in the Washington Examiner, followed by Peter Hannaford’s  “Historic Home or Grassy Strip?” published in The American Spectator and posted on Drudge.  

Over the holidays, when the demolition and wrecking equipment showed up on site, we sprang into action and, after lots of behind-the-scenes work from Tuesday, January 1 to Wednesday, January 9, we discerned a palpable shift in the winds. 

On Friday, January 11, Eleanor Gorski, Assistant Commissioner for Historic Preservation at the Department of Housing and Economic Development in Chicago, who approves demolition permits, affirmed that she fully expects the review process will take the full 90 days—until March 29—and that granting the Reagan home landmark status, after all, is one of the possibilities they are considering.  The day before, I called the department and was told by a staff person that there had been “a lot of back and forth” vis-à-vis the home at “higher levels” and someone would be contacting me.  Only two days before the department spokesperson, Pete Strazzobosco, was downplaying the worth of the Reagan home.  As he told the Hyde Park Herald, “It’s a pretty modest apartment building for its style and age. It doesn’t have very much style, at least not enough for the Landmarks Commission to consider a possible landmark for it.” (January 9 issue) But, the next day at 8 p.m., the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon reported that, according to Strazzobosco, “the City of Chicago’s Historic Preservation Division will use this time to ‘reach out to the property owner and discuss alternatives to demolition.’” 

On Wednesday, January 16, the Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home incorporated in the State of Illinois and this week we added two new board members—Don Totten, the most prominent early Illinois Republican support of President Reagan, and Dan Proft, a rising star in the Illinois Republican Party and political commentator for WLS in Chicago

The little picture in this initiative is our current effort to raise seed money to pay for the costs of incorporating as a non-profit and other incidentals. We are on our way to achieving our goal of raising the initial $10,000 and appreciate your support, either by check, sent to P.O. Box 3772, Washington, D.C. 20027-3772, or credit card via the Pay Pal portal to the right.  And, for those who would like to wire funds, just give me a call and I'll be pleased to facilitate this. 

The big picture, of course, is the significant funds we are raising to work with the University of Chicago to transform the home into a Reagan Museum and Center. More about that soon.

Thanks for all your support.

Let’s win one more for the Gipper!

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

Submitted to Commission on Chicago Landmarks 
by Redd Griffin, May 17, 2011

Suggestion for Chicago Landmark
Suggested Building:  832 E. 57th Street
Additional Background Information

The 832 E. 57th Street Building in Hyde Park meets Criterion 3 (Significant Person) as it was the childhood home of Ronald Reagan from 1914 to 1915.  Though Reagan spent just a year in the six-flat building as a three- to four-year-old and most of his youth in western Illinois, he wrote fondly of the gas-lit first-floor apartment where his family resided in the building. 

In a 1988 letter, he described watching horse-drawn firefighters “come down the street at full gallop… the sight made me decide I wanted to be a fireman.”  He described surviving a near-fatal bout of pneumonia, playing with a neighbor’s set of lead soldiers, how his older brother was run over by a beer wagon and how they both panicked while his parents went out for groceries, left the house, and got lost across the Midway. 

The former Reagan home is adjacent to the University of Chicago campus, the school that provided the intellectual force behind “Reaganomics” and is a few blocks from its new Milton Friedman Institute—named in tribute to the architect of Reagan’s free market policies.

The 832 E. 57th Street Building also meets Criterion 4 (Important Architecture) as an excellent example of a six-flat building, a general building type of significance to the historic visual character of Chicago’s neighborhoods.  When the Hyde Park area began to be developed as a more densely populated urban neighborhood in the 1890s, small apartment buildings containing a variety of units were becoming common in new middle- and working-class neighborhoods. 

These include the City’s ubiquitous “two-flats” and “three-flats,” as well as larger “six-flats” and “corner” apartment buildings. 

The 832 E. 57th Street Building is an excellent example of the type of six-flat buildings scattered throughout the Hyde Park community and is noteworthy for its quality use of traditional building materials, including brick cladding with detailing in stone, wood and decorative metal.  The building features elements from the Classical and Queen Anne styles.  Notable ornamentation includes the two-story metal window bays featuring panels with festoons, a pressed metal cornice, and an arched front entrance trimmed in stone.  The building is prominently located on a corner lot and features excellent architectural integrity in terms of its design, materials and decorative detailing. 

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