By Bob Uphues
The demolition of homes purchased by the Cook County Land Bank Authority in Riverside Lawn has been delayed unexpectedly after an architectural survey concluded that one of the homes listed for demolition is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
And, now, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency wants to find out if the home can be moved — across the river to Riverside.
The architectural survey, conducted by Marcy Prchal, architectural historian for the Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program at the University of Illinois, concluded that the house at 3744 Stanley Ave. was eligible for National Register status.
That particular house was built by Alexander Watson, the man responsible for developing Riverside Lawn. For the past 17 years, the house had been owned and lovingly cared for by Judy and Allen Koessel.
"That blows me away," said Judy Koessel when told about the home's eligibility for the National Register.
Prchal said of the four homes studied for the architectural survey, only the one at 3744 Stanley Ave. was considered eligible for inclusion on the National Register.
"What got us about that property was that it was intact," said Prchal, who noted the interior as well as the exterior had been preserved.
"It has a lot of the original woodwork and the central fireplace is still there," Prchal said. "Original details were preserved or were changed in architecturally sensitive ways."
The fact that Watson, who also built the first footbridge across the river (near where the Swinging Bridge is now), owned the home also played into its historical importance.
"He really invested in developing that community," Prchal said. "It's not just another old house."
Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank, confirmed in an email that demolition of roughly 20 homes purchased through a buyout program in partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has been put on hold for at least another 30 days.
But it's unlikely that the home will be spared the wrecking ball, despite the fact that, because of the survey's findings, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has asked the land bank to determine the feasibility of relocating the house to Riverside.
Rose said the house would have to remain in Riverside, and of the two lots available in the village for such a house, the price for the land would be between $200,000 and $250,000.
"And that's just for the land," Rose said. "I don't think it's going to be very feasible."
Koessel said at one time she and her husband had explored the possibility of moving the house, but decided it wasn't do-able.
In 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority moved a historic home from the 2100 block of South Prairie Avenue to make way for the planned McCormick Place entertainment district.
Moving the home and a detached coach house, said the Tribune, cost about $6 million, not including the new land.
Because the land bank wanted to begin demolition at the north end of Riverside Lawn and move south, whatever decision is made about 3744 Stanley Ave. is the "linchpin" of the whole process.
The land bank has purchased 21 homes through the buyout process and has three more homeowners who want to contemplate offers, Rose said. The county and MWRD came up with the buyout plan in 2015 after a succession of floods in recent years.
Much of Riverside Lawn, an unincorporated section of Cook County tucked inside a triangular bend of the Des Plaines River near 39th Street, is in a flood plain. Just a handful of homes, almost all of them closer to 39th Street, will be left in the rustic, wooded neighborhood once demolitions are complete.
"I feel pretty good with the progress we've made," Rose said.