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Edgewater House That Entertained Stars Such As Jerry Garcia and Tom Waits Could Be Demolished Despite Finding Buyer willing To Landmark

Edgewater’s last historic mansions are dwindling in numbers as developers eye them in order to capitalize on the neighborhood’s popularity. But one home’s likely fate in particular has some shaking their heads and wondering if there is any hope.

Many of the surviving century-old homes such as the one that housed Wing Hoe restaurant at 5356 N. Sheridan do not meet the requirements needed to be landmarked. Those structures will likely see the wrecking ball after they are sold. But one historic mansion with a colorful history at 6106 N. Kenmore has everything needed for easy landmarking, not to mention a buyer willing to preserve it.

The house which stands on the northwest corner of Kenmore and Glenlake was owned by one of the most celebrated voices in both radio and television, Grammy Award nominated Ken Nordine. He purchased the mansion in the 1960s and it became home to his legendary recording studio Snail Studios.

Through the decades a wide range of celebrities secretly recorded at the home. If those walls could talk they would boast about the likes of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the masterful Tom Waits (just to name a couple) and the creative collaborations that took place there. Sadly, time moves on and Nordine passed away in February of this year. His estate was left to his sons who quickly started to look for a buyer.

It did not take long for perspective purchasers to show interest. The lot that the house sits on is a large, double-wide property that is zoned RM-5. That means that a developer can come in, demolish the property, construct a larger multi-unit building up to 45 feet in height and make a nice profit. In Fact the property listing for the house boasts about its current RM-5 zoning designation and its ability to accommodate medium to high-density multi-family buildings as well as a variety of other residential housing types.

This is similar to the situation in East Andersonville when houses in that neighborhood started to see buyers with plans to do the same. Those residents banded together to be downzoned to RT-3 to restrict a building height to 20 feet, thus eliminating most threats of larger developments. However, Alderman Harry Osterman has no plans at this time to downzone the area where the Nordine house stands.

With the possibility of 6106 N. Kenmore being demolished, the Edgewater Historical Society (EHS) stepped in with hopes of a better alternative. Over the summer they enlisted the help of Landmarks Illinois, an organization that works to save historical buildings that face the threat of being torn down.

“Everyone understood the vulnerability once the property was put up for sale, and the vulnerability being that it is a historic house that is not protected and also happens to be in an R-5 zone,” said Landmarks Illinois Director of Advocacy Lisa Dichiera. “Rezoning and landmarking are really the only two tools we have in hand to outright prevent a demolition.”

So Landmarks Illinois got to work and found a potential buyer back in July who was willing to Landmark the property in order to preserve it. The plan was to restore the house, build a new addition and divide it into a few units. He made a contractural offer just below market value with the plan of going through the landmark process in order to take advantage of the incentives the it offers. Negotiations were going well until the seller of the estate suddenly ended the process sometime in mid-September.

“The estate as the seller was not willing to embark on the landmarking process,” Dichiera explained. “I’m not sure why they pulled out but the reasoning may be that if they started along the landmarking path and then if that particular purchaser pulled out for whatever reason, it could undo it (the contractural offer). They instead took an offer that was not contingent on landmarking from a different developer. I do not know who that developer is, only that it is someone who has done past new construction in the neighborhood.”

Dichiera said that developers asking for a land use contingency such as a zoning change in order to make a project work is normal. Though the overall landmarking process could take 6-9 months, this developer wanted the contingency based on starting the process which means obtaining a preliminary landmarking designation which usually occurs within 3 months.

In fact, Dichiera already had gotten insight from the Department of Planning and Development that the house meets the criteria to be landmarked. The most notable point about 6106 N. Kenmore is the nationally recognized Chicago architects who designed it in 1902, Pond and Pond. Considered among the earliest modernizers in architecture in the period after the Great Chicago Fire, the firm built a long list of significant civic and institutional buildings throughout the nation. The other criteria for landmarking status that the house meets is that it was owned by a significant person, Ken Nordine.

“Neighbors need to speak out if they want to see the house retained,” Dichiera said when asked if there was anything that can be done still. “You will have the voice of the Edgewater Historical Society, but you also need area residents and neighbors to understand that losing this house will be a major loss. I mean it really is a beauty and you could never create this house again. Another hope is that the developer who is currently negotiating the purchase would be open to meeting all people concerned about the future of the property and be open to reuse of the house.”

Even though landmarking looked promising and a buyer was found to work with the existing house, 6106 N. Kenmore could be another historic Edgewater mansion lost. This time however, it is a bit more painful for those who are trying to save these properties from demolition because it had everything in place to be successful.

 

 

 

 


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