Riverside’s Preservation Commission is expected to recommend amending the local landmark status of a property in the village’s historic First Division, removing that designation from a coach house and applying it instead to the main residence.
The commission has called a public hearing on the question for Thursday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. in Room 22 of the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.
At issue is the property at 253 Bloomingbank Road, where in 2001 the property owner asked for and received landmark status for the two-story clapboard-sided coach house behind the main home.
Homeowner Greg Cowell’s decision to seek landmark status at that time was in response to an ordinance passed the previous year that allowed residential uses in coach houses as long as those structures were designated local landmarks.
Passage of the law resulted in a spurt of landmark requests for historic coach houses, and while the village encouraged homeowners to designate the main homes as landmarks, it wasn’t required.
At the time, Cowell wasn’t interested in obtaining landmark status for his home, a Dutch Colonial design built about 1895. Instead, Cowell said, he sought the designation for the coach house in order to use it as a rental property.
While the coach house did serve that purpose for a couple of years, it hasn’t done so for a long time. Cowell said the coach house, which sits on a rubble foundation, was never in excellent shape.
He did get estimates to pour a proper foundation and renovate the structure, but figures came in around $300,000, Cowell said.
“From a practical point of view, it makes no sense to fix it up,” said Cowell, who wants to demolish the coach house and construct a garage in its place.
That posed a problem for members of the Riverside Preservation Commission, who must approve a certificate of appropriateness to pave way for the demolition. According to Charles Pipal, the chairman of the commission, allowing the demolition of a landmarked structure posed a serious problem.
During his time on the commission, which stretches back to at least the year Cowell petitioned to make his coach house a local landmark, no structure has ever had its landmark status removed and none has ever been demolished.
When Cowell brought his proposal to demolish the coach house in order to build a garage in its place earlier this year, some preservation commissioners were concerned that approving the request might set a precedent of allowing demolition through neglect.
“That was one of the big concerns our commission had,” said Pipal.
In the wake of Cowell’s request, Pipal reached out to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see if there were any options available. The agency responded that because the principal residence at 253 Bloomingbank Road was a contributing structure to Riverside’s national historic landmark status, it was in the public good to protect the main home.
Swapping landmark status of the coach house for the main home appeared to be a reasonable solution, and one liable to be supported by the commission, since the recommendation came from the state preservation agency.
“We owed it to the [local preservation ordinance] that made this possible in the first place,” Pipal said. “We’re protecting what should have been protected in the first place.”
Cowell and his wife, Jeannine Glavas, have owned the property since 1995.
“It was a fixer-upper,” said Cowell of the then century-old home.
Since that time, the couple has renovated the house extensively, both inside and out. Cowell said he doesn’t plan on doing any more extensive restoration work on the house, and is amenable to placing the landmark status on it if it leads to the demolition of the coach house and the construction of a garage.
“I’m willing to do it,” said Cowell. “I don’t plan on being in front of the Preservation Commission again while I’ll be [living at the house].”
The house at 253 Bloomingbank Road was built for Chandler B. Beach, who had served as a captain in the quartermaster’s corps for the Grand Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.
After the war he became involved in publishing, specifically encyclopedias. When he retired, Beach’s employee, Frank Compton, took over the company, later publishing Compton’s Encyclopedia.
According to his obituary, published in the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 1, 1928, Beach was a director of the Central Trust Company, a former Riverside village president and member of the board of education.
Beach, who died at the age of 89, also was a member of the budget bureau in Washington, D.C., during the Harding administration, according to the obituary. U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes served as an honorary pall bearer at Beach’s funeral at his Riverside home.