THREATENED: Despite Strong Community Opposition, Demolition Delay Expiring for Historic Three-Flat at 2240 N. Burling

Judy Colohan Blatherwick, right, and her sister Kathy Colohan Novy stand in the 1870s home they live in at 2240 N. Burling Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune
2240 N. Burling Demolition Threat featured on front page of the Chicago Tribune Sunday Print Edition, February 5, 2023. Image credit: Chicago Tribune
Petition to “Say NO to Demolition of Historic Three-Flat at 2240 N. Burling for a Side Yard” Image credit: Preservation Chicago

“Judy Blatherwick and her family put in decades of work restoring their graceful, Italianate wood-frame home in Lincoln Park, but after selling the nearly 150-year-old building to a local real estate titan, it now faces demolition.

“‘There has been a lot of love put into this house, and it’s a living, breathing piece of Chicago history,’ the 79-year-old said. ‘Tearing it down will leave a gaping hole in the streetscape.”

“She can’t hide her sorrow over the possibility her home will be demolished to make a side yard or new mansion, and the loss of so much work and history. She and her husband, who passed away in 2010, spent years replenishing the interior, finding new mouldings, replacing window casings discarded by previous owners and painting it in vibrant colors

“The home at 2240 N. Burling St., part of the national Sheffield Historic District, is one of the few remaining wood-frame homes built in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The building’s new owner is Thaddeus Wong, Blatherwick’s neighbor for many years and the co-CEO of @properties | Christie’s International Real Estate, one of the nation’s largest residential real estate firms. He filed for a demolition permit in November, but city officials nearly three decades ago gave 2240 N. Burling an orange rating, reserved for properties that may be historically significant, and that put a 90-day hold on the permit.

“In the meantime, Preservation Chicago launched a petition drive to save the home, garnering more than 2,000 signatures, and plan to ask the Commission on Chicago Landmarks at its Feb. 9 meeting to either further delay the demolition or make 2240 a local landmark, hopefully saving it for future generations.

“‘It’s a unique building, finely crafted and detailed,’ said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. ‘It represents what the city looked like before and just after the Chicago Fire.’

“The possible teardown fits a pattern seen across Lincoln Park, according to preservationists. Longtime residents sell out, and new owners, frequently very wealthy, demolish and replace old properties with imposing mega-mansions or use the spaces as side yards. Hundreds of homes were lost this way in recent decades, including ones with orange ratings. And unless more protection is offered, perhaps by making the entire district a local landmark, advocates say the neighborhood will lose the elegance that attracts so many eager buyers, as well as its few remaining affordable units.

“‘There just aren’t that many wood-based houses like 2240, mostly because, for obvious reasons, wood construction became less common after the Chicago Fire, but this is not just about the architectural significance of an individual house,’ said Landmarks Illinois Advocacy Manager Kendra Parzen. ‘We’d really like to see a more complete solution for the district, because right now, the same house-by-house fight keeps happening over and over again.’

“The Sheffield historic district, first created in the 1970s and later expanded, now covers most of Lincoln Park between Lincoln Avenue on the east and Clybourn Avenue on the west, but the designation doesn’t provide protection to individual buildings, Parzen said. Between 1993 and 2019, more than 350 buildings, roughly one-third of its stock, were either demolished or significantly altered, often transformed from three-flats or other multifamily properties into single-family homes or new condominiums.

“Lincoln Central Association, the local community organization, is also fighting to save 2240 N. Burling. According to the organization’s December newsletter, its loss would continue a decadeslong process that led teachers, firemen and other service workers to leave the neighborhood.

“Mid-North Association President Melissa Macek said securing local landmark status for the neighborhood would provide more protection for vulnerable properties. She lives several blocks east in the Mid-North District, a local landmark area, and its 19th-century brick rowhouses, Queen Anne-style homes and several pre-Chicago Fire workers’ cottages are largely protected.

“‘I want my daughter to be able to see all this architecture when she grows up,’ she said. ‘People need to raise their voices, otherwise it will be gone.’

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