Other historic sites might not be so lucky. Landmarks Illinois on Tuesday issued its annual list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic sites, some of which are already targeted for demolition. While blues and history lovers are working to save Waters’ South Side home, other sites are orphans in need of adoption.
Topping this year’s list are Chicago’s bascule bridges — drawbridges that lift one or two spans into the air to let boats pass below, and which are a signature symbol of the city. A select few are being saved, such as the recently restored Michigan Avenue bridge and the Wells Street bridge currently under reconstruction.
But many more are deteriorating and need millions of dollars for maintenance or replacement, preservationists warned. Some, like the Chicago Avenue and Division Street bridges over the Chicago River, are too narrow and form dangerous choke points for traffic, and are likely to be replaced.
At least one, the Ashland Avenue bridge, has the support of the Chicago Art Deco Society, which is seeking its renovation. The city is undertaking a survey of the bridges to recommend what to do with them.
Waters’ house, at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in the North Kenwood neighborhood, where the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Spann once belted out the blues in the basement, now sits boarded up. The residence was the target of a foreclosure filing last summer, and in January the city issued a warning letter to the owner after an inspection found the property to be “dangerous.”
The letter could lead to a court order for demolition, but city officials said they were working with the owner to try to address maintenance issues.
Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, said he is optimistic that those efforts can save the residence.
“There are a number of people willing to step in,” he said. “The house means a lot to many different people.”
The Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake plays on a different aspect of Chicago’s heritage — gangsters. Historians say the hotel was once a resort destination for mobsters and others seeking a getaway from the city. But the hotel closed 50 years ago, leaving a bar, lounge and marina, and the city got a court order to close the building last year.
Kathryn Thoman, executive director of the Mineola Preservation Project, hopes that its inclusion on the list could drum up interest to rehab the building.
“You can walk through those doors and you walk back in time,” she said. “You can sit down and have a drink where Al Capone did. It’s a very special building.”
After the building was condemned last year, owner Pete Jakstas tried to sell the property on eBay for $2 million, but he didn’t get any bids, Thoman said. She estimated it would cost $340,000 to get the bar alone up and running, and millions of dollars to fix the hotel.
In West Chicago, city officials are seeking to demolish the Joel Wiant House, built in 1869 at the height of the city’s importance as a railroad junction, and home to many prominent families, according to the landmarks group.
The city’s plan calls for knocking down the Second Empire-style house as part of a 14-acre downtown redevelopment, to make way for a new City Hall and police station, among other things. Local advocates are mounting a petition drive to save the house, vacant since 2008, and seeking a possible buyer.
Read more at Chicago Tribune.