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Efforts continue to preserve historic Wheaton mansion

Concerns raised over demolishing building

WHEATON – Residents continue to voice concerns about a plan to raze the buildings on the Loretto Convent property at 1600 Somerset Lane to make way for single-family homes.

The Pulte Group, which recently entered into a contract to purchase the property, plans to build 48 single-family homes on the 15.7-acre property as part of the proposed Loretto Club development, following the demolition of all the structures on the site.

Members of the Wheaton Planning and Zoning Board reviewed the plans at their Feb. 14 meeting. The property would remain zoned institutional district.

Some residents at the meeting voiced concerns the zoning would not be appropriate for a residential subdivision. Neighbors living near the proposed development also voiced concerns the development would radically change the character of the area.

Wheaton Historic Commission Chairwoman Nancy Flannery repeated her concerns about an 1897 house designed by a renowned Chicago architect being razed as part of the project. The Pulte Group has offered the mansion for free to anyone wishing to move it.

"Historic preservation has been pushed to the side because people see it as an 'either-or' proposition," Flannery said, in addressing Planning and Zoning Board members. "But the truth is, we can incorporate historic preservation with progress. The truth is, it doesn't have to be an 'either-or' situation. Seven Gables and the chapel do not have to be torn down in order for a company to make money."

The House of Seven Gables was designed by Jarvis Hunt, who also designed the neighboring Chicago Golf Club clubhouse. The house is currently being used as a convent as part of the Loretto Center, a sponsored ministry of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a worldwide religious community of Catholic women. Loretto Center operates a conference/retreat center.

Landmarks Illinois, a statewide nonprofit group advocating for historic and architecturally significant buildings and places, has called for the preservation of the House of Seven Gables.

"The House of Seven Gables is considered a great example of the high-quality residential design career of Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt, who designed many important residences and buildings, including the Chicago Golf Club clubhouse and significant landmarks such as the train stations in Joliet and Kansas City," Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald said in a letter to Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk and members of the Wheaton City Council.

The group on Feb. 13 also sent a letter to Planning and Zoning Board members. In the letter, it stated that because of the mansion’s architectural and historic importance, "it should be reused as part of the proposed redevelopment, whether by Pulte or a separate entity."

"We believe the board and staff can work with Pulte to find a solution that provides the maximum number of buildable lots while still retaining the historic building," the letter stated.

Planning and Zoning Board members will continue to review the plans at their next meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Wheaton City Hall, 303 W. Wesley St.

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