Historic homes' future

Opinion: Editorials

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History, meet market. Preservation, meet open concept. Restoration, meet demolition.

For the third time in three years, River Forest is debating the future, more precisely debating the demolition of an architecturally and historically significant home in the village. Now on the bubble is 1123 Franklin Ave., a 95-year-old Tudor constructed by Buurma Brothers, immigrants from Holland who settled in Oak Park and built homes known for meticulous construction. 

The home has reportedly not been occupied since 2006 due to a series of aborted sales and rehabs, bank repossessions and other sidetracks which have allegedly led to substantial damage to the home's interior. The home was purchased last summer by a couple now applying for a demolition permit so they can clear the site and build a smaller, more modern home. 

River Forest's Historic Preservation Committee has brought out its puny little claws: Hold hearings, delay permits, grant permits, watch the wrecking ball. River Forest clearly hasn't the stomach to fight for its historic heritage. Over more than a decade, determined volunteers have tried and utterly failed to put any whop into the village's preservation laws. 

The commission has documented the notable homes, but it is more an exercise in recording history than in preserving history. The result is that River Forest is picking up steam in its effort to become the next Hinsdale, a formerly lovely town along the Metra with new houses crowded on what used to be quaint streets.

Is this pattern inevitable? It could be if you read the lead piece in today's Journal real estate section (Homes). Reporter Lacey Sikora reports the local version of a February missive from Baird & Warner's Steve Baird instructing his agents on the North Shore to get realistic on why peddling those multimillion-dollar historic mansions has gotten so hard. 

The reasons says Baird is that young buyers don't want old houses. They want open floor plans, not formal dining rooms. They want modern amenities, not last-century charm. Many of them, he said, want to live in the city and not commute to Highland Park. And fewer and fewer want to make updating an old house a primary aspect of their lives.

In Oak Park and River Forest, local agents told Sikora that larger, older and more pricey homes are not moving as they once did. As the spring market opens, there are an even 50 million-dollar-and-up homes on the market in these villages. The more expensive the home, the longer it lingers on the market — pushing 10 months now on average.  

And finally, for the second time in a year, we have leading local Realtors telling us that high property taxes are absolutely a drag on the market in Oak Park and River Forest. 

No surprise. And no comfort.

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