A Riverside couple has applied to U.S. Park Service to have their home added to the National Register of Historic Places, and after receiving unanimous support from the Riverside Preservation Commission in May the application will be considered for recommendation by the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council later this month.
If ultimately recommended for placement on the National Register, the Benda House at 211 Southcote Road, now owned by Michelangelo Sabatino and Serge Ambrose, would be the just fourth Riverside structure so designated.
“For me it was a slam dunk,” said Charles Pipal, chairman of the Riverside Preservation Commission, whose members voted unanimously on May 25 to support the National Register application to the state advisory council. “The application was impeccably researched.”
Two of the Riverside structures on the National Register are Frank Lloyd Wright-designed properties, the F.F. Tomek House at 150 Nuttall Road and the Coonley Estate, comprising 290 and 300 Scottswood Road, 281 Bloomingbank Road and 336 Coonley Road.
The third is the Arcade Building, a Victorian gothic-style mixed-use property at 1 Riverside Road designed by Frederick C. Withers for the Riverside Improvement Company and built around 1871.
The Coonley Estate was named a National Historic Landmark in 1971, with the Tomek House following in 1999. The Arcade Building received the designation in 2016.
One of the things that sets apart the Benda House from the local buildings already on the National Register is that it was designed by architect Winston Elting for Francis Benda and Sylvia Valha in 1938-39 in the International Style.
While Prairie Style designs, like Wright’s, and Victorian-era designs are popular and often associated with the National Register of Historic Places, suburban examples of modernism are rarer.
“They are not thought of as stellar historic buildings, because they’re within our recent memories,” said Pipal, a preservation architect who as a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago directed a survey of non-residential buildings built in Cook County between 1935 and 1975.
“Those are the most threatened, because they are not old enough to be considered charming or historic,” Pipal said.
Sabatino, director of the Ph.D. program in architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, and Ambrose, an architect/engineer, lovingly restored the Benda House, which retains many of its original interior and exterior features, over four years.
The Frederick Law Olmsted Society awarded the couple its 2022 Preservation Award.
In their application for National Register recognition, Sabatino and Ambrose pointed to the explosion of development in Riverside and Chicago suburbs in the 1920s and into the 1930s.
The Benda House is an example of the embrace of modernism of that time, during which Chicago hosted the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition. The Benda House “is a rare example of a late 1930s Modern house with a high-level of architectural integrity in Chicago’s western suburbs,” the application states.
If listed, according to the application, the house “will be the only Modern Movement/International Style building in Riverside on the [National Register] and therefore serve as an important testament to the village’s development during the 1930s decade.”
The 15-member Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, a mix of architects, historian and preservation advocates which convenes three times a year, will meet to consider the applications for the Benda House at six other structures on June 30.