A block, not one house

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Historic preservation is always complex. Individual property rights vs. the collective right of a community to live out its values in shared spaces often finds fundamental virtues in conflict.

River Forest has long been conflicted on this subject. That explains why it was so long in coming to the table with any sort of substantial preservation ordinance. The early versions were toothless. The amended version, passed just last year, is based entirely on delay and persuasion techniques. Slow down demolition permits for six months and present developers either with alternatives to demolition or enough public noise to send them skedaddling. 

 There is a new twist on this old dilemma playing out right now in River Forest. Preservationists are working to save not just a single old house but this home's place within a full block of Prairie-style homes in what is likely River Forest's first planned development.

This is the 700 block of William Street. Only a year back, the village noted the significance of that architectural legacy by posting commemorative street signs. Some architectural historians believe Frank Lloyd Wright was not only the inspiration for this assemblage of home but was actually the architect. That remains a point of conjecture. 

But it is now clear honorary street signs alone won't save 747 William St. Purchased over the summer by two River Forest residents with a plan to demolish and replace it, the buyers claim the home is structurally unsound and obsolete. In a meeting last week, members of the River Forest Preservation Commission requested a report from a structural engineer to test the home's soundness. Village government has also slowed the demolition request by asking for further site drawings.

We are sympathetic to the argument of neighbors and supporters that this wonderful block must be considered in its totality. We hope that, in addition to slowing the process to a crawl, they can persuade the buyers to find a new buyer who sees the magic in investing in this historic home on this historic block. 

However this unfolds, River Forest must continue to seek more substantive tools of preservation.

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