Sometimes at social events, people take me aside, wanting to talk about issues affecting Riverside. Most recently, it was Beth Wenzel.
“You want to preserve Riverside, right?” was her opening salvo. “Then help people understand that the best way to protect their house in the future is to get it landmarked now.”
She may have a point.
Riverside landmarks cannot be demolished because they are deemed to be too valuable to the community.
“I don’t want my house to be torn down ever, regardless of who owns it,” says Wenzel. “I want my children to be able to come back as adults and always see where they grew up.”
The Wenzels have applied for landmark status for their home on Maplewood Road. Their home is a charming but modestly scaled Prairie-style cottage. While attractive and painstakingly renovated, the home doesn’t seem to be any more eyecatching than dozens of others in town. Could it really become a landmark?
Definitely, says Nancy Foley, vice chair of the Riverside Preservation Commission.
“We have six criteria for considering landmark applications,” she says. “A home has to meet only one of them.”
The structure should:
1. Have significant value as part of the historical, cultural, artistic, social, architectural or other heritage of the village, State of Illinois or nation.
2. Have an association with an important person or event in local, state or national history.
3. Be a notable work of a significant architect or builder.
4. Be representative of a period, style, craftsmanship, method of construction or use of indigenous materials.
5. Be an established and familiar visual feature in the village due to location or physical characteristics.
6. Have an identity with other similar buildings that are representative of the village’s character.
After the homeowner completes an application that includes a rationale, the Preservation Commission meets to discuss and vote on the application. Final approval lies with the village board, who nearly always follows the Commission’s recommendation.
In the Wenzels’ case, their application is based on the home’s architectural value.
“My home is a somewhat typical house for the area that could have been torn down when we bought it because it was in bad shape, but we restored it,” says Wenzel. “If we can do it, other people can, too.”
Trouble is, there is a widespread perception in town that landmark recognition is a sure recipe for future red tape every time a homeowner wants to paint his shutters or install a new doorknocker.
It is true that owners of landmark homes do have to take extra steps when they want to perform work on their home that would be visible from the street. Landmark owners first apply for a regular building permit or permits. Then, the Preservation Commission will review the project and issue a certificate of appropriateness as long as critical elements of the home’s exterior will not be compromised or damaged by the work.
“Landmarks are still private property, and we respect that,” says Foley. “But we can also benefit homeowners by putting them in touch with appropriate resources and sharing the expertise of our members who are architects.”
Foley offers the case of a landmark home whose owner wanted to demolish an obsolete attached greenhouse. When commissioners visited, they agreed there was no reason to save the greenhouse but suggested that its wall should be preserved, perhaps in the form of a walled garden.
“The homeowner was thrilled,” says Foley. “We really helped them while protecting the landmark.”
If you’re considering applying for landmark status, the Preservation Commission would like to hear from you.
“We’re eager to get more qualified homes on the list and are happy to help people with the paperwork,” says Foley.
Frankly, landmark status is for homeowners who can take the long view. The former tax benefits have been phased out and aren’t likely to be reinstated. The landmark commemorative plaque is nice, but the real satisfaction comes in knowing that landmark home will last.
I wish the previous or current owners of the stone house two doors north of Henninger’s on Longcommon had been willing to apply for landmark status, as the Preservation Commission had requested. The owners declined and now the rumor mill is working overtime that this irreplaceable house will be torn down because of its dilapidated interior. We’ll all be a bit poorer for the loss.