When Riverside resident Beth Wenzel went on a tour of landmark houses along her street, Maplewood Road, last May, she discovered information about her own house that made her realize she was living in a historic structure as well.
The Maplewood walk, organized by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside, highlighted seven landmarks on the street, one of which was next door to Wenzel’s house. At the event, organizers displayed a 19th-century picture of her neighbor’s house to illustrate how the house had changed over the years. In the background of that photograph, Wenzel could see her own house, looking exactly the same as it does today.
“I realized if my house was there before her house, then my house must really be old,” she said. “And if hers can be a landmark, then mine should be, too.”
At that point, Wenzel began researching the history of her house, and this summer she applied for landmark status from the village. Her argument for such recognition is that her house, a Prairie-style cottage built around 1912, is representative of a significant style of architecture.
“It was built by a woman in the early 1900s, and for that reason I think it’s really pretty special,” Wenzel said.
Wenzel’s application was presented to the Riverside Preservation Commission, and according to Nancy Foley, that commission’s vice chairperson, a public hearing will be held on it and two other applications, including a home at 200 Nuttall Road, on Aug. 11. The commission’s recommendations will go to the Riverside village board for final approval.
Foley said the commission doesn’t receive many applications for landmark status from residents, but the process is fairly simple. All homeowners have to do, she said, is fill out an application and turn it into the village, arguing that their home meets one of six landmark criteria.
These include having a significant value as part of the historical, cultural or architectural heritage of the village, state or nation; having an association with an important person or event; being a notable work by a significant architect; being representative of a certain period or style of architecture; being an established and familiar feature in the village; and having an identity with other, similar buildings that represent Riverside’s character.
Foley also said that the Preservation Commission and Riverside Historical Society are more than willing to assist residents in researching the history of their homes. The Riverside Historical Museum has information on every house in the village, including a structure survey and lists of their previous owners.
Foley said she would like to see more residents apply for landmark status for their homes, especially given the recent trend of redevelopment in the village. Although no homes of historic value have been torn down so far, Foley said officially recognizing significant buildings as landmarks may protect them from being demolished in the future. While a building designated as a landmark can be renovated or slightly altered with approval from the Preservation Commission, it cannot be completely torn down.
“We can save a lot of these beautiful homes, and preserve the flavor of Riverside,” Foley said.
Although the fear of her house being torn down in the future was not Wenzel’s main motivation in applying for landmark status, she did say that she would like her three daughters’ childhood home to still exist when they are adults. Wenzel herself grew up in Riverside, and her old home, as well as the homes of her grandparents and other relatives, is still standing on Southcote Road.
“I would like to keep the house as it is, forever, hopefully,” she said, “so that the kids can come back one day and show their kids where they grew up.”
As for other homes, Wenzel said she hopes landmarking becomes a trend in Riverside.
“I can speak for other homeowners, but it would be nice for Riverside to have more houses landmarked, down from the little tiny bungalows to the great Victorians,” she said.