Dual Landmark Status Not Enough to Save Building in Pilsen

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1144 18th St. [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

On 18th Street, an 1885 Italianate mixed-use building will soon make way for a new residential building. Marketed as teardown with the infamous phrase “the value is in the land,” the new owner’s intent is revealed in a pending demolition permit.

What makes the loss of the structure more acute is its status on two historic surveys. It is listed as contributing in the Pilsen Historic District on the National Register and is Orange-rated on the Chicago Historic Resources survey.

Sadly, neither designation carries enough weight to prevent demolition.

February 1885 Chicago Daily Tribune showing 1144 W. 18th St (then 418 18th) as home to a local chapter of anarchist group

Early History

Prior to the construction of the store and flat building at 1144 W. 18th, the address was notorious as a local branch of the Association of American Anarchists. A February 1885 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune (above) published a roster and and explainer of the group associated with anarchists.

A few months after this secret roster was published, the existing structure was demolished a new construction permit was issued for the same address.

Above: 1909 street renumbering guide showing original address of 1144 W 18th
Below: original building permit for 1144 W 18th from Oct 13 1885 Chicago Daily Tribune

The Cook County Assessor lists the build date as 1893, but a building permit puts the actual date at 1885. There is very little in the historic record of M. Newzil, other than an 1877 suit in Circuit Court for “Bill for divorce for desertion.”

The architect is unknown. In later years, classifieds advertisements show decades of use as a tavern or restaurant.

1144 W 18th St [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

The ground-level store portion displays many traits of the era: iron columns, raised iron entry, and an extra-large transom window.

1144 W 18th St [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

A common trait with its western neighbor is the ornament between the ground and first floor.

Rusted cornice and pediment at 1144 W 18th St [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

The metal cornice and pediment show distress after 132 years of exposure to the elements. Because of the tendency to rust, extant metal cornice work of the era is much less common than wood.

Dual Landmark Status

1144 W. 18th is a contributing structure in the Pilsen Historic District on the National Register, but unfortunately this designation does nothing in terms of preventing a demolition permit. Status on the National Register is mostly beneficial for tax reasons, and decisions regarding its future are decided at the local level.

Locally, the building has an Orange rating, but in practical terms that is mostly only good for automatic addition to the Demolition Delay Hold List, which mandates a 90 day waiting period for review. Despite that rating, 1144 W. 18th is not yet on the list.

Although it has dual historic designations, there is almost no chance the demolition permit will be denied by the city.

The Value is in the Land

Present for this property was the ubiquitous MLS phrase frequently seen for historic structures in hot neighborhoods, “the value is in the land.”

Great location on East Pilsen. The building is a tear down or rehab. Two lots. The value is in the land.

Permit status for 1144 W. 18th St, as of December 17th

It sold for $500,000 last year. But rather than rehab the existing structure and build something new on the adjoining lot, the new owners instead opted to erase history and destroy a contributing structure in a National Register Historic District.

[John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

1144 W 18th is a painful reminder that landmark designations vary in terms of preservation effectiveness. In this case, contributing status on the National Register plays no role in permit decisions, and an Orange rating on the Historic Resources Survey can offer little more than a 90-day delay.

The most effective tools for historic preservation are Landmark Districts and Individual Landmark Status, both at the local level. A good primer is a fact sheet created by Preservation Chicago, 31 Landmarking FAQs.

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