No corner in Lincoln Park better exemplifies the changing built landscape of this neighborhood than Howe and Armitage.
That's where you'll find this little blue gem from 1886. It's dwarfed by the three-, four-, and five-lot palaces that have risen all around it. Now, it's a complete anomaly.
Sadly, it's probably also awaiting its slaughter.
It's been for sale at least since 2005 when I took these photos. (Although little about it has changed.) The asking price is $575K for 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a sizable yard and a finished basement.
The listing sheet reads, "Renovate. . . or tear down and build your own in the Lincoln School District." There will be no internal showings. You have to buy it "as is." There are renters living there now, but they are on a month-to-month lease, according to the listing.
One of the things that has probably saved it from the bulldozers so far is its small lot size. It's only 17 x 80 versus the standard 25 x 125. That makes it more difficult for developers to extract a profit from it.
I'm often in the middle on preservation issues. In general, I'm sympathetic to the notion that we should preserve aspects of our built history. I don't think we should rush to tear everything down. I'd prefer, in many instances, that we try to renovate buildings and find creative re-uses for them. I don't immediately assume newer is better. I think a diversity of structures is healthiest for a neighborhood.
However, I also think private citizens should have a solid amount of freedom with their properties. Because I'm in the market for a new-to-me home, I can see that newer can frequently be better or more affordable than older. I'm a big fan of modern design and architecture, and I recognize that envisioning and building "the new" is a necessary and important part of our culture.
Should this building be saved?
I don't really think it's the very last cottage in Lincoln Park. But, I don't know for sure. Is anybody counting?
I do think this little cottage is meaningful to our neighborhood. It adds to the visual diversity of our streetscapes. It maintains a dignified scale and offers authentic charm. It reminds us of our shared history.
It's almost 150 years old. It was built just 16 years after our neighborhood was incorporated into the city of Chicago. According to a guide the Chicago Commission on Landmarks publishes called Your House Has a History (download it here), it is a classic worker's cottage.
It would be a meaningful loss to see it go.
Unfortunately, we lack a cohesive enough community to stand up and say, "Hey, all you rich people buying lots and building mega-homes nearby, could you please throw this one in as a gift to your community? It's important to us. Alderman Daley, what about the loss of this home in our community? Is that okay with you?"
Maybe the rich people could donate it as a tax-write off to the Chicago History Museum who could use it as a study annex, sort of like the the Art Institute's Roger Brown Study Collection on Halsted. Or, maybe it could be a children's center or a garden and a small park. Perhaps a retail shop might like it and extend the Armitage shopping district a bit further east. Any of those choices might protect it for the community to enjoy for years to come.
But, honestly, there are plenty of historians who can speak more knowledgably about this building's importance, or lack thereof, rather than me.
My main point is that just thinking about this building's fate reveals a lot. The election already showed how little our community discusses our future. Demolishing this house might reveal how little we honor our past.
Here's a link to ColdwellBankerOnline.com where you'll need to register and type in 625 W. Armitage.Here's Zillow, but you need to register and type in the address: 625 W. Armitage.
Here's my favorite Lincoln Park realtor.
2013 Update on this home from folks at Kale Realty