I vote we tear down or move the house at 925 Chicago Ave. so a new addition to the Wright Home & Studio can replace it. The sooner the better.

I agree we should avoid thoughtless destruction of older homes of historical, architectural or aesthetic significance without first paying careful attention to what they add to the community and whether they can and should be retained. This is especially so when the motive for destruction is private financial gain. The function of the preservation commission is to advance these principles.

But the proposed Wright development doesn’t implicate these principles. The house that needs to be torn down or moved to accommodate the addition to the H & S is of little architectural significance, interest or beauty. It is a generic Victorian farm house like scores if not hundreds of others in the village. It looks, in fact, very much like the 1889 Victorian farm house I live in on Home Avenue. And the motive for destroying (or moving) 925 Chicago isn’t to increase some house flipper’s bank account but to construct an attractive, useful, well-thought-out and community-enhancing educational facility for people here and from around the world to enjoy.

Opponents of the new Wright development say we need to “preserve” the contrast between Wright’s “new” style of architecture and the “old” Victorian 925 Chicago home. That’s a weak argument. For one thing, the H & S, unique as it is, doesn’t completely embody the distinctive styles for which Wright is most known. The home, for example, is “shingle style.” And the part of the H & S that is nearest 925 Chicago, and thus easiest to “contrast,” is the old Wright garage, which isn’t particularly distinctive to my eyes and which was added later anyway. 

Moreover, if you want to “contrast” the H & S with Victorian styles of architecture, and more distinctive Victorian architecture at that, you need only look directly north across Chicago Avenue or walk south down Forest Avenue, starting with the Victorian house immediately adjacent to Wright’s.

To a hammer, everything can look like a nail. So it’s understandable the Historic Preservation Commission would want to “preserve” 925 Chicago. It’s the “preservation” commission after all.

But preservation for preservation’s sake makes little sense. Blocking a worthwhile addition to the community to preserve something we already have plenty of and that frankly might not warrant preservation anyway makes even less.

The question comes down to what we want in Oak Park. What most enhances the village as a place to live and host family and friends? Some might say what Oak Park needs is one more nondescript Victorian farm house. But I think more people would vote for an attractive addition to the world-class Wright Home & Studio.

Charles Watkins is a resident of Oak Park and an attorney with Guin, Stokes & Evans LLC in Chicago.

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