More than a century ago, Chicago real estate dealer Thomas Henry Hulbert was aggressively marketing his new subdivision in Oak Park as houses built with honor. 

That subdivision now could become both a local and National Register historic district, which would protect the 176 single-family homes from demolition or extreme exterior modifications. 

The historic designation also could increase property values — and property taxes — and make homeowners eligible for tax breaks for interior and exterior rehabilitation.

The Oak Park Hulbert houses were built along Clinton and Kenilworth avenues from Madison Street to the Eisenhower Expressway at the turn of the 20th century and sold to the middle class as an affordable option with easy access to downtown Chicago.

The houses were designed in a variety of styles: American Foursquare, Craftsman, Prairie School and Queen Anne, the majority of which (158) were constructed by Hulbert between 1905 and 1913.

Oak Park’s Historic Preservation Commission has been meeting with residents of the subdivision to present the prospects for establishing the local district as well as getting it listed on the National Register. The Register designation also requires approval by the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council and the National Park Service.

Doug Kaarre, an urban planner with the village and staff liaison to the village’s Historic Preservation Commission, said in a telephone interview that the commission has been looking at the historic designation for some time and added it as a possible candidate for designation in its Strategic Historic Preservation Plan in 2010.

The commission held its first meeting last month to discuss the issue with residents of the neighborhood, who will get a chance to learn more at a second meeting at Oak Park Village Hall on May 20 at 7 p.m. 

Kaarre said reactions to the proposal last month were mixed. 

“There were a good number of supporters and maybe the same amount of people in opposition; there were a lot of people there who just wanted information,” Kaarre said. 

Rosanne McGrath, chair of the Preservation Commission, could not be reached for comment.

Kaarre said outside of the upcoming meeting, there is no timeline for establishing the district. 

“At this point, we don’t have anything scheduled because the commission wants to have as many discussions as they need. … We’re playing it by ear,” he said.

Residents of the neighborhood who spoke with Wednesday Journal about the possible district largely wondered how the designation would affect their property values and their ability to make modifications to their homes. 

Carian McLean, who has lived in her home since 1998, believes it would have been much tougher, if not impossible, to get the modifications and additions she put on to her house about 10 years ago if the area had been designated a historic district.

She said her home on the 500 block of Clinton was converted from an American Foursquare home to a pseudo-Victorian style. She suggested that anyone who has an inkling to change their home, might want to do it before the historic landmark status is approved.

McLean said some of the neighbors she has talked with are skeptical about the proposal, but “I don’t hear a lot of strong opposition,” she added.

Hulbert neighborhood resident Alycia Sutor said she also is hearing that other neighbors are worried their property taxes might go up. Sutor said she believes residents “are being cautious” because “there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information” about the proposal.

The village notes in literature distributed to Hulbert residents that historic designations usually increase property values and help neighborhoods hold their property value during downturns in the economy.

Properties that contribute to the historic district also could be eligible for the state’s property tax assessment freeze program, which caps property taxes for up to eight years for interior or exterior rehabilitation of the property.

Contact: tim@oakpark.com

Historic buildings, online map

The village of Oak Park offers a number of resources to learn more about historic neighborhoods and landmarks.

Village Planner Craig Failor said the village has contracted with RuskinARC for the last two years to build and maintain an online map that includes information about homes in historic districts and historic landmarks.

Oak Park has over 2,400 historic sites, the majority of which are homes built in the Queen Anne, Prairie School and Craftsman styles of architecture.

The site is available at: http://www.oak-park.us/village-services/planning/historic-preservation/historic-resources.

"We've always had the data, and we get a lot of inquiries from realtors and homeowners wanting more information about the properties," Failor said. "This gives them the ability to look up some of the stuff on their own."

Failor noted that the village is currently working to install new permitting software, which will be implemented by the end of the year. 

He said all the historic building data will still be available after the new system is in place, but will be in a different format.

Tim Inklebarger

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