'Tarzan' author's home gets landmark nod

Preservation commission's recommendation heads to village board

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Technically named the Edgar Rice Burroughs House No.1, the two-story residence at 414 Augusta St. in Oak Park was home to the famous author and his family from 1914 to 1917. 

While a small plaque on a concrete base has marked the home's connection to the Tarzan author for years, recently, the homeowners went a step further and received the green light from the Historic Preservation Commission for more formal designation as a historic landmark.

In Oak Park, a historic landmark is a property which has special character or significant historical, architectural, archeological, community or aesthetic value as part of the heritage of the village of Oak Park, state of Illinois or the United States, and which has been designated an Oak Park historic landmark pursuant to village ordinance. 

Doug Kaarre, urban planner for the village, noted that in order to be designated a historic landmark in Oak Park, a building must meet at least one of the following criteria:

Have significance in the development of Oak Park, the State of Illinois or the United States.

Be the site of an historic event.

Be closely identified with a significant historical figure, architect, designer, etc.

Be listed by the village as a significant structure in one of the historic districts.

Have distinguishing characteristics or distinctive design elements of a significant architectural or engineering type.

Represent an architectural, cultural, economic, historical or social style or period.

Be identified on the village's official inventory of significant properties.

Kaarre says homeowners typically approach the village to nominate their homes, but the village also contacts homeowners on occasion to see if they will agree to nominate their homes.

The process begins with the preparation of a nomination form and report. The report can be prepared by the homeowner, a consultant or by Kaarre himself. Once it is complete, the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission reviews it to determine if the home is eligible.

In the case of 414 Augusta St., Kaarre says the home clearly met the criteria for association with a significant figure. 

"It's not an important example of architecture," he said. "We don't know who the architect is, although we have the builder's name."

At a Nov. 9 public hearing on the nomination, members of the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted to recommend designating the home a local landmark. 

The nomination will be forwarded to the village board, which generally puts these designations on their consent agenda. Once approved, the village provides a bronze plaque to the homeowners.

Kaarre points out the landmark designation does provide some sort of protection to significant structures. 

"This house is already in an historic district, so it did have protection from demolition," Kaarre said. "But, as a landmark, it will have extra protection. Any exterior alteration will require a certificate of appropriateness." 

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs

For the nomination report on 414 Augusta St., Kaarre prepared a detailed history of Burroughs' life.  Born in Chicago in 1875. Burroughs struggled as a student. His father withdrew him from the Harvard School on Chicago's South Side due to poor health or poor grades, and later enrolled him in Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1891. 

After one term, the school requested Burroughs withdraw as a student due to lack of effort. He later failed the entrance exam to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and his parents permitted him to enroll in the U.S. Cavalry where he was assigned to the Arizona Territory in 1896. In 1897, he asked for his father's help to get him discharged.

For a period, he worked in Idaho and with his brothers on their cattle ranch before returning to Chicago to work for his father at the American Battery Company. In 1900, he married his neighbor, Emma Hulbert. 

The couple moved to Idaho and Utah before returning to the Chicago area, with Burroughs trying different means of employment. By 1911, the Burroughs had two children, and Burroughs' first story, "Under the Moon of Mars," was published and earned him $400. In 1913, he left a job at System magazine to try to be a full-time writer.

With enough financial security from the sale of stories – the first title in the Tarzan series, Tarzan of the Apes, was published in 1912 -- Burroughs purchased his family's first home at 414 Augusta St. The family of five lived there until 1917, when they moved to 700 Linden Ave. in Oak Park. 

They sold the Linden Avenue house and planned to move to California, but ended up staying in Oak Park when Burroughs received a commission as a captain in the Illinois Reserve Militia during World War I. 

The family rented a home at 325 N. Oak Park Ave. (now demolished) for the duration of the war. Burroughs retained ownership of the Augusta Street house until the family moved to California in 1919.

 

414 Augusta St.

The home at 414 Augusta St. is a two-story structure built in 1911 or 1912 by local contactor Walter C. Franck. The stucco home has Tudor revival and craftsman influences and has undergone a few changes over the years, including replacement of the original six-over-six wood windows with vinyl replacements and some alterations of the east and west entrances.

Current owner Peter Ryan says that he and his wife, Alyssa, purchased the home in 2002. Although a marker in their front yard identifies the house as the home of Burroughs, Ryan says that aside from the occasional tourist, their house is a typical Oak Park home.

"We bought it because it was our style, and we fell in love with it," Ryan said.

Over the years, they have a made a few changes to the house, like going back to the original style of divided light windows. 

A contractor working on a nearby house mentioned that they should think about the landmark designation, and, according to Ryan, after a conversation with Kaarre, "it snowballed from there."

The home remains a great place to raise their two sons, and Ryan says of the designation the house, "We want to make sure it's around for a while."

 

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