Backhoe mistake triggers latest clash over historic buildings on Armour


A subcontractor’s backhoe mistakenly wiped out two porch enclosures on historic Armour Boulevard buildings – no dispute about that.

So a development firm will have to pay about $14,000 to rebuild the porches on buildings it plans to tear down.

The Historic Preservation Commission decided that Friday and told the developer, Silliman Group, to return next month with plans for the porch work.

The matter is the latest clash over the four historic buildings at 100-118 W. Armour Boulevard.

Silliman Group and MAC Properties, its local management group, wanted to demolish the 1902 properties to build two new apartment buildings.

They have renovated 21 historic buildings on Armour to create 1,500 market rate apartments.

But the developers say the three duplexes and an 18-unit apartment building there would cost too much to renovate with too little return.

The Commission voted last year to block demolition for three years. Later it required the developer to seal the buildings and carefully remove and store things like porch columns and other ornaments.

When that work began recently, a subcontractor destroyed the porch enclosures.

That enraged people in the Old Hyde Park Neighborhood Association who have been fighting to save the buildings.

It also angered the commissioners.

On Friday, Chairman Erik Heitman said the backhoe work amounted to demolition, not mothballing and preservation.

Peter Cassel, Silliman group director, agreed it was a mistake and said, “we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

In atonement, he suggested the company spend about $40,000 for decorative soffit work on the Del Monte building it renovated across Wyandotte Street.

That would avoid spending $14,000 to build the porch enclosures on buildings that will be demolished in about two years, he said.

Marty Phillips, an Old Hyde Park board member, opposed that. He also said the buildings had peeling paint, litter, broken windows, faulty gutters and other problems and Silliman should be fined for it.

The buildings were not the Taj Mahal but were decent places to live before the developer bought them, he said. “They let them sit, go into disrepair.”

Habis Wright, a resident of the area, said it seems clear the abandoned buildings will be an eyesore for two years.

He asked that the chain link fence in front of them be taken down.

It is ugly and does not provide security, he said. “Quite frankly,” he said, “I think it provides a challenge for juveniles and unsavory elements.”

One Comment

  1. Brad says:

    The devil is in the details here.. where are all the taupe bricks that have disappeared from those enclosures? (landfill possibly?) If enough have not been put aside to at least create a veneer facing for the buildings damaged porch enclosures, then the result would be an abomination if someone ever had the intent to remove the paint off the buildings (which, by the way, has been done recently with some smaller local brick apartments with beautiful results). The columns that were destroyed (painted as well) were of a taupe stone quartz and absolutely beautiful. The duplex closest to the large building has a ribbed brick pattern along its first floor that followed along into the now missing porch; that pattern would need to be replicated as well.
    As for the Del Monte, again, devil in the details, what kind of soffit? The brickwork design along the top of the building indicates a double corbel bracketed design, would there be any effort made to restore the original design, or put up something clearly modern? Though not the case with the already missing Del Monte soffit, this company has had a history of buying a building and sitting on it for some time before renovation; during the “lapse time”, they quietly remove architectural details they don’t want to bother to restore and then go to “Landmarks” later and say they were missing when the buildings were acquired. Take a look at todays Bellerieve as an example. The front overhang is nothing more than crude 4×4 iron bars welded together with a couple chain supports; gone is the guilded detail facing that was present when the buildings were acquired by MAC. Though doubtful it was original, it lended itself to be a sensitive replacement on a wonderful historic building, not so with what is there today.
    MAC has a penchant for austere modernism, and though this community has fought for and gained the status of being on the local and national historic registers, this company has shown no deference to this and the cares of the community. It hired a hyper-modernist architectural firm to design Jetson-style buildings where the now-damaged block of apartment buildings stand. Had MAC shown respect to the landmark’s status of Old Hyde Park from the get-go by hiring a firm that may have presented something that would harmonize wonderfully with the adjacent community, things may have gone quite differently with regard to neighborhood response.
    Beautiful new buildings can fit quite wonderfully along the old and yet clearly be differentiated as infill; look to Union Hill as a perfect example. Just recently, the last of the younger modernist 60’s buildings were razed that clashed with the original historic feel of the community. Here is an example of infill that is done well with excellent results; resale values of adjacent homes prove it, over the years, as the intent of the final result of this community became clear, prices have shot up there much more than in adjacent neighborhoods. If a community feels truly historically “intact” and reflects in the overall success of that neighborhood. We want no less in ours.

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