A couple have applied to demolish a historic yet dilapidated home in River Forest. If approved, demolition of 1123 Franklin Ave. would represent the end for a third significant property in the village. 

“It gives a character and a substance to the village that is special and is uncommon,” Dave Franek, chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee, said of the village’s historic homes. “We are trying to maintain as much as possible of this small group of homes that do provide this atmosphere and add to the quality of life here in our community.” 

Last August, Mark and Sara Wienkes bought the home on Franklin from Old National Second Bank. Mark Wienkes did not respond to an interview request. 

When they bought the home, it showed “serious signs of loss of structural integrity,” according to an application submitted to the village. The application states that gutters clogged and water overflowed into the house’s foundation and basement. It said the home is without several windows, which allowed small animals and unlawful human inhabitants to enter. The roof — a grand slate fixture typical of the architect’s style — is “visibly sagging.” 

The reason for this disrepair, the application states, is the property’s previous owner. In 2006, Dario Cioti, a property developer from River Forest, paid $2.85 million for the single-family Tudor home, which was designed in 1925 by the Buurma Brothers, two men from Holland who settled in Oak Park and built a number of homes in the area.  

“What they were known for was meticulous craftsmanship,” Franek said.  

The application states that the home has been vacant since January 2006 when Cioti “took possession and began demolition for a proposed remodel.” Cioti’s renovation left the home without several interior walls, finishes, and mechanical systems, the application said. His company went out of business in 2008 without finishing the work. 

In July 2014, George Chiarelli, of Alsip, bought the home for $500,000. The village issued Chiarelli more than $30,000 in fines for neglect and code violations. Six months later, a lien was placed on the home. The property was transferred to a bank, and “owning real estate is not a bank’s primary business,” Franek said.  

“When that happens, then there’s deferred maintenance,” he said. “[Banks are] not set up for maintenance; they don’t have the expertise. They get their fees for originating, processing and collecting loans, not through maintaining properties.” 

After years of neglect, the Wienkes bought the home in August 2018, with plans to demolish it and build a smaller house on the property, Franek said. If approved, this would be the first Buurma Brothers home in Franek’s more than decade long memory to be demolished. 

When the Wienkes approached the Historical Preservation Commission about demolishing the home, Franek said members of the commission asked to tour the property so they could see for themselves its condition. Commission members confirmed that they would be covered under the village’s liability insurance if something were to go wrong. The Wienkes declined the offer. 

“That kind of leaves a gap in our understanding,” Franek said, calling the move “disappointing.” 

He said he is unsure what move the commission will make at the public hearing at 7 p.m. on March 14 at Concordia University Chicago. At the meeting, the commission could either vote to issue a certificate of appropriateness for demolition or postpone the vote until a later date. The Wienkes will also discuss their plan for the home. Franek said he was “sure” there will be public comment.  

“If a bank or a finance company had deferred maintenance over a period of time, I can fully understand neighbors’ desire to get that remedied so it’s in keeping with maintenance of the rest of the neighborhood,” he said. “At the same point in time, the best option may not be demolition but to restore it.”

Franek said this is the third historic home in the village that could be demolished. In September 2015, a developer tore down the nearly 100-year-old Mars Mansion. In May 2018, a house at 747 William St. was razed. 

“This property has existed almost 100 years,” Franek said of 1123 Franklin. “It’s very distinctive; it’s a grand property. So when it’s taken down, it will leave a gap in the neighborhood.”  

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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