The bidding on the patio bricks started at $100.
Just a couple of minutes later it was over”the dismantling of 37 Longcommon Road was underway and wouldn’t stop until the last light fixture was claimed by scavengers.
And the physical dismantling started immediately. Shortly after putting in his winning bid of $330 for the 1,200 or so old street paving bricks that comprised the backyard patio, Oak Park resident John Slocum wedged his crowbar into the ground and started digging them out.
“I’m going to make a sidewalk at home with them,” Slocum said. “I’ve got a crowbar. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a friend.”
Complete demolition of the house will come in a matter of weeks, if not sooner. By winter the shell of a new house is expected to be under a roof, with a new home completed by this time next year.
“I come to these just to see the old homes and marvel at them,” said Downers Grove resident Jeff Stozek. “It’s a shame to lose these architectural features, because they are not going to be built again.”
Teardowns are common enough to have become old hat in Riverside. But when word started filtering around town that the old stone Victorian at 37 Longcommon Road was targeted for demolition, the inevitable sense of resignation was coupled with dejection.
“People have been very curious,” said Jon Sion, who has lived in the house with his wife and two children for the past 15 years. “And I get the same question”‘Why are you doing it?’ I say, ‘Walk inside and see if you have the same question.'”
Stozek, while appreciating the exterior of the 19th-century home, agreed.
“Inside the floors are fragmented and the room sides are small,” Stozek said. “It doesn’t meet today’s living standards.”
From the outside, the house at 37 Longcommon Road is a throwback. Tall, dark and built completely of brown boulders, it’s the kind of house many people romanticize. It looks gothic and somewhat forbidding, hidden partially behind a stand of bushes in the front of the property.
While there’s no architect or builder of record to be found in the records of the Riverside Historical Museum, Museum Director Suzanne Bartholomew said that the house was likely constructed between 1888-92.
It was notable enough to have been included on the 1972 Illinois Historic Structure Survey, but was not named a local Riverside landmark, when that list was compiled in 1991.
Sion, who grew up in Riverside, remembered playing in the house as a child. He and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased the house as newlyweds.
“It was great for a brand new married couple,” Sion said. “There was so much space. But now that our two kids have grown and our needs have grown, we have found living in it difficult. It’s like we’re one on top of another.”
Part of the reason for that feeling is the way the house expanded over the years. According to Sion, the original owner planned on building a house twice the size of the current edifice, but ran out of money. Subsequent owners tacked on rooms as needed, obviously with no central plan.
The result is a labyrinth of rooms on the second and third floors that spiral off of a narrow central staircase, totally unsuited to contemporary living.
“Logistically it’s a nightmare,” Sion said. “The floor plan is unworkable.”
The house that will replace the old stone building will be completely different. Sion has hired architect Stephen J. Wierzbowski of WDW Design in Chicago to design a two-story, brick, Prairie-style home with an attached garage at the rear of the house.
Features of the four-bedroom home include a two-story, barrel-vaulted foyer and exterior patios enclosed by low, limestone-topped brick walls. Sion, a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, said the new house will be “very consistent with Riverside.”
“I grew up in Riverside and I wanted to stay in Riverside,” Sion said.
Tom Barr, Sion’s neighbor to the south wished his neighbor the best with the new house, admitting that the present home was “not a very usable house.”
“I’ve seen the plans, and they’re doing a nice job,” Barr said.
It is conceivable, however, that Barr in the next year could find himself between two large construction sites. While he knows that the Sions’ new house will be going up over the next several months, it’s possible that demolition and construction of a new retail/condo building could be under construction to his immediate south. Barr’s home is directly north of the corner that houses the former Henninger Pharmacy.
Before saying goodbye to the old home for good, Sion hired a LaGrange Park-based demolition auction company, Murco Recycling Enterprises, to find buyers for what remained inside and outside”from the boulders covering the exterior of the house to the flagstone planter in the backyard.
Jodi Murphy, owner of Murco, said she does 50-60 auctions a year”mostly in anticipation of teardowns or a major remodeling.
“Everything is fair game, she said, “landscaping, fixtures, bricks, slate.”
After the backyard brick patio”Murphy moved to the garage, selling a set of golf clubs, before turning her attention to the circular flagstone planter, where a hydrangea bush went for a pittance. The flagstones themselves brought $375.