No landmarking without owner consent

The circa 1875 L.C. Ward house at 1726 Hinman Ave.

One of the ironies of the effort to landmark the building that now stands at 1726 Hinman Ave. is that, if Evanston had had a Preservation Commission a hundred years ago, it might never have been built.


The charming Queen Anne Victorian pictured above stood on the site and was a mere 46 years old in 1921 when architect John Nyden decided to exercise his dominion over the property and tore it down, replacing it with his own rather eclectic interpretation of a Colonial Revival home.

1726 Hinman Ave. in a 2007 assessor's office photo.

Surely the preservationists of 1921 would have demanded that Nyden restore the Queen Anne building instead at his own expense regardless of the plans he'd had to build the home he wanted on the site.

And that illustrates the fundamental flaw of the impulse to force preservation -- it assumes that whatever has acquired the patina of age is better than anything new that might ever be built on a site.

Now, I have lived in old houses most of my adult life and have spent a considerable amount of money fixing them up. I get that old houses can be charming and delightful to live in despite their peculiarities.

But in a city that has already marked off more than 16 percent of its land area for preservation in historic districts, it is time for the City Council to remove the Preservation Commission's authority to recommend landmarking of any additional properties without the consent of the property owner.

Historic districts outlined on a city map of Evanston.

Landmarking is fine, when done with the owner's consent. Without it, it's an abuse of state power.

Related stories

Recap: Planning and Development Committee (6/12/17)

Demo or landmark on Hinman? (6/12/17)




I am in favor removing the Preservation Commission's authority to recommend
landmarking of any additional properties without the consent of the property

If fact, I think this should go one step further and propose this idea: The
Preservation Commission should be disallowed from landmarking any properties.

Instead, preservationists should establish a foundation for preservation that
operates somewhat like The Nature Conservancy. That is, the "preservation
foundation" would solicit monetary donations for their operations, identify
properties suitable for protecting, and solicit donations of those properties
for the tax benefits that arise from such donations. Additionally, they could
solicit agreement from owners of properties suitable for protection to
volunteer for landmarking. No tax benefit, in that case, but perhaps a gold
star. i.e. recognition of some kind.

In my view, the current program of forcing unwanted landmarking on unwilling
owners is unfair, at a minimum; if not outrageous.

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