A group of Elmhurst residents met this week to discuss ways to preserve the historic integrity of a stretch of classic homes along Arlington and Kenilworth avenues between Marion Street and St. Charles Road.
Wednesday’s meeting at Elmhurst Public Library revealed the results of a field survey of 99 homes in the area conducted by Granacki Historic Consultants. Listed objectives included ensuring the preservation of historic homes in the neighborhood, raising public awareness, and assisting homeowners in maintaining and improving their properties.
The survey found the majority of the homes are historic or potentially historic with alterations. Community members are considering pursuing some variety of historic designation for individual homes or the area at large.
“Seventy-two of the 99 would be chosen historic should you decide to go in that direction,” Elmhurst Historic Preservation Commissioner Charles Goding said.
Many of the homes in the neighborhood were once owned by Elmhurst’s founding fathers, presenters said. Others were designed by notable architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin, and many exhibit classic styles such as Craftsman, Queen Anne, and Prairie School, among others.
Historic Preservation Commissioner Red Beebe said the area exhibits “a classic American Midwestern neighborhood.”
“If you put it 60 miles out west ... it wouldn’t mean much,” he said. “The emphasis is on the neighborhood.”
Costs and rewards
Presenters said preserving and maintaining a historic home can be quite an investment of time and money. However, Historic Preservation Commissioner Steve Michals said there are tax incentives available for owning a home designated as a historic landmark under municipal ordinance.
Those incentives include a property-tax freeze for eight years under the Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze Program. After the eight-year freeze, property taxes gradually go up to the appropriate level over the course of four years.
Historic Preservation Commissioner Rich Sarna said historic homes can qualify for assistance through the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois’ Preservation Easement Program. In return for preserving a home’s exterior, homeowners can claim a non-cash charitable deduction on their federal income taxes through the program.
Homeowners seeking local landmark designation must own a home 50 years or older with “sufficient integrity of location and design,” as well as satisfy at least two of 13 criteria outlined by the Historic Preservation Commission. The interior of the home is not regulated by the ordinance.
Currently, there are two private homes designated as landmarks in the city of Elmhurst.
One of those homes is owned by Charles and Angela Lizzadro Anderson at 301 Arlington Ave. Their daughter, Dorothy Asher, said the process is “quite lengthy,” but the hardest part of landmark designation is filling out the application.
Elmhurst Historical Museum Director Brian Bergheger said his group offers numerous resources to help residents research the history of a home.
Designation and restrictions
Despite the perceived benefits of historic designation, the landmark status comes with some essentially permanent restrictions on what can be done with a home.
“Generally a landmark designation helps property value except ... a small home on a very big lot with development potential,” said Vicki Granacki, who conducted the survey.
Granacki also found that 12 new homes were built in the area in the past decade, sometimes at the cost of a historic property.
“Many historic structures in Elmhurst have been altered or demolished, and many of these were architecturally and/or historically significant,” the survey read. “If this continues unabated, the overall character and historic quality of the community will be irreversibly changed for the worse.”
Another option would be to designate part or all of the neighborhood as a local historic district, but there currently is no municipal law granting creation of such an area. Neighbors were told Wednesday they could petition or use other measures to lobby the City Council to craft a law that would enable the neighborhood to create such a district.
Steve and Anda Sokalski have seen many residential teardowns in the 25 years they’ve lived in the neighborhood at 260 Arlington Ave., and said they are considering pursuing a landmark designation for their own home.
“I’m interested in preserving the integrity of the neighborhood,” Steve Sokalski said. “I have a lot of interest.”