Hulbert homes may get historic status

Change could increase property values for 176 homes

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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.


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Reader Comments

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Neal Buer  

Posted: May 7th, 2015 7:51 PM

@Don - So you're saying you "got permission" to put solar panels on your roof? Two questions - How can solar panels maintain the historic intregrity? If the commission allows solar panels, why have a commission in the first place? Am I missing something?

Don Hosek from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2015 11:30 AM

Regarding solar, our house is the first house in OP in a historic district to get solar. There's now a policy in place regarding this (they passed it on staff recommendation at the same meeting where they approved our solar). Pretty much, putting solar panels on the roof isn't going to be a problem, even if they're visible from the street (which is the general criteria about improvements in a historic district).

Robert Zeh  

Posted: May 6th, 2015 8:15 PM

@Christina, in 2005 the Historic Preservation Commission stopped Richard Carroll and Joyce Hopkins from changing their porch columns from round to square. That kind of overkill is why I'd oppose a historic preservation district for my home, and why I'd suggest others do so as well.

Neal Buer  

Posted: May 6th, 2015 7:27 PM

In response to Christina - We have building codes to insure safety. The only issue is the requirement to ask for "permission". You also mention "mcmansions" in Elmhurst. I live on the 800 block of South Kenilworth, and we have at least 8 "mcmansions" on our block alone. Why didn't you notice them? Maybe because they were all done tastefully and in keeping with the character of the property. All of this was accomplished without additional oversight.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2015 4:12 PM

We have lived in the proposed Hulburt Historic District for 37 years. During that time, We have witnessed the continuing improvements to the neighborhood. We have been doing fine for over 100+ years without being a "designated" historic district. We are in fact already living in an historic area. We don't need another level of time-consuming, expensive , and cumbersome oversight, to impede the progress made over the last century. If you live in the proposed area, please give your opinion. At the meeting on April 27th, the commission agreed to survey the homeowners desire to have their homes in an historic district. We think that should be the next step to see if any more meetings are even necessary.

Christina Birkentall from Honeoye Falls  

Posted: May 5th, 2015 8:16 PM

In 2011 I did a graduate study of this area and found the housing stock to be in excellent condition, but with many residents resistant to having historic status. HP status does not mean you can't modify the inside of your home, but you need to seek permission to do any radical changes outside. Making sure your front porch is safe and in keeping with the neighborhood is not so hard. It may cost a little more but it keeps the property values up all around your home. You would not want your neighbor to build an eyesore next to your lovingly restored home or have your block look like Elmhurst with all their pseudo "mcmansions". Would you?

Al Rossell  

Posted: May 5th, 2015 5:46 PM

To my knowledge there is no study that indicates that homes in Historic Districts increase in value. In fact, it is actually a detriment as it takes away some of your property rights. As the housing stock ages and trends change, older homes often become obsolete. Buyers want master baths, family rooms, not too interested in formal dining rooms anymore and what if solar becomes the fad and now you are restricted on outside improvements. Beware of the false gifts that the historic commission is telling you. No matter what, it will cost you more in either cash or time delay when you want to fix your front porch. Ask your friends that live in a Historic District and see how they like it.

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