Earlier this year, a century-old building in Humboldt Park fell to the wrecking ball. The structure, part of a proposed historic district, succumbed to development pressure. But at least one group fought to save it: Logan Square Preservation (P.O. Box 47282).
The group, Logan Square’s local defenders of historic construction, couldn’t save that building, the old Carbit Paints. But they continue to fight for the architectural character of the neighborhood (and nearby areas). These buildings, said Andrew Schneider, the group’s president, matter to both Logan Square and the larger boulevard system.
“It’s the buildings taken together as a whole that make it such a historic place,” he said. “And so, every time one of those buildings is lost, it diminishes the district as a whole.”
Beyond advocating for specific buildings, Logan Square Preservation has also earned landmark status for the Logan Square neighborhood and is creating a program to help homeowners maintain their facades.
Carbit Paints Falls
In January, the Carbit Paints building (2942 W. North Ave.), came under a demolition order from developer Wilmot Properties. When Logan Square Preservation heard about the plan, they contacted both the developer and Alderman Joe Moreno. His 1st Ward covers the Carbit Paints location, as well as parts of Logan Square.
Neither zoning nor any landmark status could protect that building, though, said Raymond Valadez, Moreno’s chief of staff.
“Not only did [the developer] have a demolition permit, but… he didn’t need any zoning approvals or permissions to move forward,” Valadez said. “We did communicate with the developer, and we weren’t in a real good position to ask them not to go forward.”
Built in the 1910s, the structure sported an original brick construction with classic arched windows. It housed Carbit Paints’ manufacturing and sales facilities from 1942 until 1955. The company continued to use the building as an outlet until 2015. After that, it stood empty.
Schneider told the Sun-Times that the techniques used to build Carbit Paints don’t appear in today’s construction. But the real shame is that a nearby lot stands vacant, he told LoganSquarist.
“I think the real tragedy of it… is that Carbit Paints is a part of this built fabric, this wonderful architectural heritage of the boulevard system,” he said. “And it was pushed over for this larger building because it was for sale. Meanwhile, a block and a half away, the same square footage of land, or close enough to it, is open—but not for sale.”
Historic Boulevard System
Carbit Paints, set to be replaced by a six-story apartment building with ground-floor retail, was listed as a “contributing building” in a proposed historic district in Chicago. That proposal would place the entire boulevard system of the city in the National Register of Historic Places.
Logan Square Preservation did bring up the proposal with the developer and alderman. But the designation couldn’t save the building, Valadez said.
For one thing, the proposal has not yet been completed. And unlike Chicago landmark status, the National Historic District designation is honorary, both Valadez and Schneider said. It recognizes the historic value of a building and region and offers some refurbishment tax credits—but it doesn’t prevent demolition.
In other words, the designation “does not have teeth,” Valadez said.
So, what could keep “contributing” historic buildings like a Carbit safe from demolition? Expanded landmark designation by the city—which can prevent demolition—or better zoning could provide the solution, depending on whom you ask.
Logan Square Preservationist has, in the past, contributed to landmark designations with more “teeth.”
The Logan Square Historic Boulevards District, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, includes stretches of Logan and Humboldt Boulevards, along with part of Kedzie Avenue. In 2005, Logan Square Preservation helped turn that district into a Chicago landmark. This protects contributing buildings from demolition.
That work on city landmark status happened during the condo boom of the early 2000s, Schneider said.
“We started losing buildings, a lot of them in the district,” he said. “So we pushed for landmark status.”
To protect buildings in the Carbit Paints building’s area and others, preservationists could try to expand Chicago landmark status to include those structures, Valadez said.
“We’re willing to work with preservationists if they have additional buildings or areas” they want to designate as landmarks, he said. “Because we do value historical buildings, and we’d like to work with them through the current process.”
In the Zone
Earning that status, however, isn’t easy, Schneider said. He called the 2005 push “a very painful process.” Local leaders today can instead do a lot by fine-tuning zoning laws, Schneider said.
“If the zoning reflects what’s already built and a developer has to go through a lot to get an approval to get something bigger built than what’s already on the site, most of the time the economic cards are stacked in favor of reuse,” he said.
However, if zoning allows, for example, six-unit apartment buildings where a single-family home currently sits, development pressure will work against reuse, Schneider said.
“If that piece of land comes up for sale, a person who wanted to keep the building standing couldn’t afford to bid out a developer who wanted to build six apartments,” he said.
Schneider also said that local leaders should push developers to use quality materials and designs that fit in with existing buildings.
Want to help preserve?
If you’d like to help with preservation efforts, Schneider said you can let the group know when historic buildings face demolition risks.
“If you see a building that’s in danger, we’ll always try to help,” he said. “But we have to know that it’s happening. It’s very hard to keep an eye on all these things.”
Logan Square Preservation is also working on a project that would allow homeowners to donate an easement on their façade to the group. That way, even after the homeowner sells, the preservationist group would be able to prevent demolition.
With such an easement, “We’re in a position to say, ‘No, that façade’s got to stay,'” Schneider said.