WIN: Final Landmark Recommendation Protects Both Interior and Exterior of Innovative 1970s Netsch Home

Netsch House interior living room comparison. Walter Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch House, 1972, 1700 N. Hudson Avenue. Photo credit: Dave Burk / SOM
Netsch House interior stairs comparison. Walter Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch House, 1972, 1700 N. Hudson Avenue. Photo credit: Dave Burk / SOM

“The Old Town home that innovative 20th-century architect Walter Netsch designed with a bold, unconventional floor plan of multiple levels and bands of skylights across the ceiling is going up for a rare type of landmarking this week.

“Mark Smithe and Will Forrest, who bought the house on Hudson Avenue in December 2014 from the estate of Dawn Clark Netsch, the architect’s widow, are going before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Jan. 12. They’re submitting the house, built in 1972, for landmark designation not only for the exterior, which is a common practice, but for the interior, which is not.

“‘The interior is so remarkable that it’s worth preserving,’ said Forrest, a senior partner at business consulting firm McKinsey. ‘It’s inseparable from the exterior.’ The men said they do not plan to sell the house anytime soon, but that they want to ensure its long-term protection now. ‘It has a legacy we want to preserve,’ Smithe said.

“Landmarking the interior of a public or publicly accessible building, such as the Palmer House Hilton downtown or the university-owned Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park, is not unusual, said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. Landmark designation comes with limitations on what about a structure can be changed and with what materials.

“The Netsch house ‘is a unique situation,’ Miller said, but because it’s being advocated by the property owners, he expects the Landmarks Commission will approve the designation. Commission staff and members do not comment publicly on proposed designations before the official meeting, but in the agenda, staff wrote that they recommend approving the couple’s application for landmark designation. Miller suggested landmarking the Netsch interior ‘maybe would start a trend.’

“Netsch designed the house for himself and his law professor wife, Dawn Clark Netsch, in the early 1970s when Old Town was an epicenter of hipness populated by, among others, bohemian retailers, comedy landmark Second City, and his fellow modernist architects. Dawn Clark Netsch went on to a career in politics, serving as the comptroller of Illinois and running for governor in 1994. She died in 2013, five years after her husband.

“Neighbors around the Netsch house worried it would be torn down because of its unusual features. Smithe and Forrest, who lived nearby, approached Dawn Clark Netsch’s executors about buying it. They paid $1.65 million for the house and have not disclosed what they spent on renovation.

“Miller said he hopes landmarking Netsch’s house, both exterior and interior, ‘will open the door to landmarking midcentury homes in Old Town.’ The Old Town Triangle district designation from 1977 enshrined the neighborhood’s structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but buildings from its hip heyday, designed by architects Stanley Tigerman, Bruce Graham and other less well-known modernists like the firm Bauhs & Dring, ‘are worthy of preservation, too,’ Miller said.” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 1/10/23)

Preservation Chicago is thrilled about this wonderful preservation win. We testified in strong support of the Chicago Landmark designation of the Walter Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch house. We have worked with the Old Town Triangle and other preservation partners for over six years towards the recognition and protection of Old Town’s important collection of midcentury homes. We advocated for and helped research the Old Town Midcentury Context Statement which was authored by Terry Tatum before his passing. We further hope that the Chicago Landmark protections, for both interior and exterior, become more common for outstanding examples of Chicago’s built heritage.

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