THREATENED: Merrick-Culver House, One of Austin’s Oldest Houses, On Verge of Demolition

710 N. Lotus Ave. Coach House, c.1860s or 1870s. Photo Credit: Debbie Mercer

“Linda Culver always knew the coach house behind her family’s West Side home was old. But it wasn’t until the city moved to tear it down that Culver learned the building could date back to the late 19th century — a time when Austin wasn’t yet part of Chicago.

“The city is seeking a demolition permit for the coach house behind Culver’s family home at 710 N. Lotus Ave. due to concerns the building is unstable and unsafe. There have been hearings to discuss tearing down the building since May 2020, with the next hearing scheduled for June 28.

“Culver’s family has lived on Lotus Avenue since the 1970s. Her mother rented the coach house to several families over the years, but her family hasn’t been able to keep up the maintenance and it’s fallen into disrepair.

“Still, Culver said she could tell from its construction and the style of architecture the structure was built in an era long passed. Hoping to confirm her hunch and gather evidence to prove to the city the house was worth saving, she reached out to Preservation Chicago.

The coach house appears to be built in an Italianate style of architecture, which can be identified by the narrow windows with carved hooded moldings. That style of building was popular in Chicago during a narrow window between the 1860s and 1870s, Chavez said, potentially making the house up to 160 years old.

“It has a physical structure to it that looks very singular and very different than anything in the area, and even Chicago overall,” Chavez said. “Rough condition doesn’t always necessitate demolition. This building is really significant and you can tell just by looking at it.”

After researching records and archive materials, Chavez found the coach house likely was built on land owned by C.C. Merrick, a railroad executive who owned much of Austin before the neighborhood was incorporated into Chicago.

Records show there were very few homes in the area at the time the house was built. Much of the land that would become Austin was farmland, Chavez said. The building was likely designed to serve some agricultural purpose, like housing farmhands, Chavez said.

Culver hopes to eventually get the funds to fix the roof, stabilize the walls and gut the interior, she said. She hopes the house can be saved and restored instead of torn down because it still has a lot of potential. Its old construction style gives it a “vintage chic … architectural kind of swag” that shouldn’t be forgotten, she said.

“What was really gorgeous was the windows. … Those huge gorgeous long windows go all the way to the floor,” Culver said.

If the building is preserved, it could still be useful to the neighborhood once restored as a rental apartment, or as a community asset like a museum that documents the history of Austin.

“It does speak to a time in Austin’s history — and Chicago’s history, really — that is just not well documented. Especially since so many buildings burned in the Great Fire, you don’t necessarily have many old structures of this age around anymore, especially this far out,” Chavez said.” (Sabino, Block Club Chicago, 6/7/21)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

A West Side Homeowner Is Fighting To Save One Of The Oldest Houses In Austin From Being Demolished; The coach house behind Linda Culver’s home has languished. Now she’s working with preservationists to save the building, which could be up to 160 years old, Pascal Sabino, Block Club Chicago, Jun 7, 2021

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