Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Meeting Tonight To Vote On Zoning For
1896 Victorian Home in Sheridan Park

The home today

Historic photo of the home, from the Phillips family

Historic photo of the home, from the Phillips family
Tonight at 7pm, there will be a community meeting for neighbors to discuss and vote on the proposed upzoning (and future) of the 1896 Victorian home located at 4642 N Magnolia.

The meeting will take place at Truman College at 7pm, and anyone is welcome to attend and to speak.  The voting, however, will be open only to those in attendance who live on the 4600 and 4700 blocks of Malden and Magnolia.

A quick recap:  Most of Sheridan Park, including this home, has been downzoned for the purpose of maintaining the character of the community and avoiding the teardown of single family homes to build multi-unit residences.  A local couple owns the home on Magnolia, which was gutted in a fire several decades ago, but which still has many of the architectural features that make Victorian homes popular:  fireplace, stained glass windows, ornate woodwork.
  • The couple want to sell the home to another local couple (developers), who want to have it upzoned for the purpose of demolishing the home and building a six-flat on the property's double lots.  
  • People opposing the upzoning maintain that other possible buyers exist who would be happy to buy and rehab an existing Victorian home, and that upzoning this property flies in the face of Sheridan Park's community downzoning as a historic district.  
  • The current owners of the property have said if the pending sale is blocked, they will demolish the house no matter what. 
Ald. Cappleman is leaving the decision about the zoning of this property up to block club members and community residents.  Hence, tonight's meeting.

The last time there was a meeting regarding this issue, in November, the personal attacks and high emotions made it uncomfortable and unproductive.  We trust that those who turned the previous meeting into a circus will temper their behavior and that this meeting will be constructive without descending into inappropriateness.

A reader sent us a bit of the history of the home, which has remained owned by one family since it was built in 1896:
4642 Magnolia - The George H. Phillips house.  The house at 4642 North Magnolia Avenue was the residence, from 1901 until his death in 1916, of George Harshaw Phillips, who was known as The Corn King.

Phillips was born in Morris, Illinois, in 1869, came to Chicago after finishing high school, entered the grain trading business, so impressed his boss that he was given a seat on the Board of Trade while still in his early twenties, and then became nationally famous by his trading exploits in 1900 and 1901.

He bought the house at 4642 Magnolia in early 1901, at the height of his fame. The Chicago Tribune published a graphic showing a portrait of Phillips with illustrations of the modest house in which he had been living (with his family of five) in Rogers Park, and the house in Sheridan Park (now 4642 Magnolia) which was his new "abode."
The home was inherited by George Phillips' descendants, one of whom married Thomas Rutherford.  After her passing, it became the property of Mr. Rutherford and his second wife, Judith, who now seek to sell it.

We apologize for the late notice, but we only were made aware of this meeting yesterday.  If this issue is important to you, one way or the other, and especially if you live on the 4600 - 4700 blocks of Malden and Magnolia, we urge you to attend the meeting this evening.


  1. It's hard for me to believe that anyone in Chicago in 2013 would tear down any structure (much less a structurally and historically significant one such as this) which is 117 years old! Grover Cleveland was President of the United States, the Russias were ruled by Czars and Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian empires still existed. How presumptuous for one individual to deprive the neighborhood and the city of such a historical gem and replace it with a McCondo building. What are we thinking!?

    1. Personally, I will fight to the death to save any building that dates from the Cleveland administration that I happen to own.

    2. And I will vote to preserve it if asked and if no one is willing to preserve it, then I will vote to reject any upzoning. We have more than enough 6 flats in the neighborhood.

  2. Based on what I've read, the owner sounds CRAZY. And vindictive.

  3. Funny, I thought she sounded like a person who was sick and tired of people trying to decide what she can and can't do with her own property. If this was my property, and everyone thought it was their mission to decide the fate, I would personally make my neighbors lives a living hell. Just saying. Remember, she doesn't live there, but the neighbors do. She can make this an absolute horror for all that live close, while comfortably relaxing at home. As the old saying goes..."can't see it from my house" The outcome of this affects me in no way, but It just seems to me that people need to keep their nose's in their own business. If this was such a great house, and means so much to everyone, why has no one already purchased it? Because it is not feasible, that is why. I am not quite sure why people have such a hard time understanding this. If you are so damn worried, put your money where your mouth is , or butt out!! Its pretty simple folks

    1. In historic districts, (and also in modern suburban housing developments) it's completely normal and standard that the community has a say in what goes on with buildings. Ever watch "This Old House" on PBS? When they renovate a house in a historic area, they always have episodes where they meet with the community and learn what rules apply, including architectural details that have to be kept consistent, and sometimes even paint colors have to be chosen within a certain range or style. The idea that a homeowner has zero responsibility for their impact on the community surrounding them, that they can completely and utterly "do whatever they want" with their house, is a myth.

    2. That's an interesting perspective. You thought it was normal for her to walk around shoving an Ipad in her neighbor's faces and personally attacking at least one neighbor in public? You thought it was normal and appropriate to claim that for the developers the sales price is $525k, but for anyone else the sales price of the house is $1.5 million? Big Guy, if the outcome doesn't affect you, perhaps you would be wise to take you own advice about minding one's own business. Just saying.

    3. Uptown Revivalist...i have a vested interest in what goes on in uptown. What I said was that the outcome doesn't affect me.... That means restoration or 6flat...doesn't matter. So actually, unlike yourself I AM minding my if YOU would just do the same.

  4. As a resident of the 4600 block of malden should we have gotten some kind of notice? Just seeing this at 11:00pm 12/11 and I'm rather upset I didn't kind and get a chance to have a say! Did other residence of magnolia and malden get any notice?

    1. This was very poorly organized by the neighborhood as many people had no idea about this. The upzoning did not win a majority. The vote was tied, and it should have been end of story. The current zoning should remain in place as they needed a majority to be permitted the upzoning. Also, we learned at the meeting that each address apparently has only one vote, so if there was a couple who showed up at the meeting who happen to live together, only one of his or her votes was counted. Thankfully, we weren't asked to suffer through those ridiculous antics like last time, but it's clear that rules were being made up as the meeting progressed. My gut says that the Alderman's office would like to approve the upzoning. The majority of neighbors in Sheridan Park do NOT support upzoning, but if you lived on Beacon or Dover, your vote was not counted. In sum, business as usual.

    2. UR,

      U know that I know, or at least think I know, who you are. You know? Now if I'm right then you live a bit too close to this property to be considered objective. If I'm wrong.........well NEVERMIND.

      Now if I were making the decision based on who the better neighbors were you or the Rutherford's I'd have to say the Rutherford's would not be happy.

      There's a subtext here that many people reading this won't know. There's a bit of a Malden Maelstrom going on between the Rutherford's and some of their neighbors. To some of the people involved this is as much or more about "winning" and getting over on their neighbors than what's best for the neighborhood. That goes for folks on both sides of this issue.

      Now since no one has come forward to purchase the house/lot besides the Finan's I would prefer to see the fire damaged house torn down and replaced with a six flat than sit as a vacant lot for decades. Actually, I'd rather it be an eight flat, but as usual I am like a prophet lost in the desert cursing at the sun and lamenting my sordid sweaty existence.

      Now I do believe that many people opposed to the upzoning hold that view in good faith. That being said six flatsare not an unusual thing in Sheridan Park. They, and I think you, truly believe that if anything is built in Sheridan Park it should generally be a SFH.

      You're wrong. It was better for the neighborhood one hundred or so years ago when the SFH's and two flats were torn down for the six flats and in this case it would be better now.

      I know that many of the SFH owners want to sit on their wooden front porches and sip Country Time Lemonade and eat Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn, but this isn't that kind of neighborhood. Go a bit north to Lakewood/Balmoral for that type of happy scene.

      This is Uptown and we desperately need more market rate housing and market rate people. Add a few thousand units of new housing and it will go a long way to improving the retail situation.

      As for Cappleman I'd guess he'd like to upzone the property, but recognizes that it would be easier to let the zoning remain the same. There are likely more people in favor of not changing the zoning than are in favor of the opposite. Some of them may change their minds in a few years if the lot remains vacant or a parking lot.

      Of the many things that keeps me out of politics, besides my non sparkling personality, not wanting to put up with two groups of opposed people unwilling to look at the larger picture is probably the main thing. Oh and the scandals past and future.

      As for James Cappleman it's issues like these that may make him lament that he won. Then he would shake it off and get back to work. Cause dat's da kind of guy he is. We're luck to have him and not me in office.

    3. IP,

      I respect your opinion and your input over the years, but I'm not Marty Tangora and I had no opinion (positive or negative) about the Rutherfords prior to Mrs. Rutherford's performance a couple of weeks ago. They seemed to be good neighbors who maintain their properties much better than quite a few others in Sheridan Park.

      As I said before, I'm quite certain that successful developers and entrepreneurs such as the Finans have backup planS besides tearing down a 125 year old house and allowing a vacant lot to lie fallow until the market improves or the lot gets upzoned. I think many of us have been manipulated to believe that it's either their way or the highway. Did they really need a Loop attorney at $300 or $400 an hour to persuade a group of non-attorneys about the benefits of upzoning?

      As a matter of principle, the neighborhood has been clear about upzoning in the past. It seems inappropriate and unseemly to put us all through this repeatedly in such a chaotic and frankly, undemocratic, manner.

      Mr. Cappleman has greatly improved the 46th ward and its governance, but it's times like these when it becomes very obvious that he and/or his office are still operating on the steeper slope of the learning curve.

    4. Tangora? Hell, I thought you were Littleton if only Littleton knew how to make a coherent argument and write.

      Seriously, I know you're Denice Davis......or not. Again the coherent argument and writing bit.

      I don't think the Finan's approached this the right way. Or at least I suspect they didn't. My first move would have been approaching the alderman and seeing what his thoughts were. Maybe they did.

      They should have saved the attorneys fees and approached the alderman and neighbors first and then if it was a "go" hired the attorney.

      I doubt they have a backup plan. They likely just took the risk because if the upzoning does go through they're getting an excellent price for the property. Developers spend money on deals that never materialize all the time.

      Time may or may not tell if I'm right on that.

      As for holding meetings in this ward they tend to get feisty. Hell two old guys tried to duke it out in Lincoln Park a few weeks back regarding the proposed Lincoln School expansion.

      As for feisty meetings get used to it. Denice Davis and her cabal of left wing Uptown of old dead enders should provide much amusement and intrigue over the next 14 month. They're even holding an anti TIF meeting at Weiss in the coming days. That's amusing. Where were they during Wilson Yard?

      Add in Littleton acting like some low grade Tourette's case at nearly every opportunity and I will be skipping many meetings. They annoy me and little good comes from them.

      From your and others descriptions of the Magnolia meeting I suspect the Rutherford's and Finan's didn't help their cause.

      That being said in terms of what should happen to the property their behavior is not a relevant factor to me. The decision should be made on the facts and not the personalities.

      Of all the issues Cappleman has to face the next few years this is likely way down on the list of importance. Maryville, the Wilson El renovation, whatever changes come to the Four Star rated Wilson Men's Hotel etc are much more important to the future of the neighborhood.

      We have an opportunity here for the next few years to see some real development in Uptown. At some point this real estate "boom" will end just like all the previous booms. We lost out on two nice developments one across from the Sheridan EL stop and the other at former KFC that were planned just as the last boom ended.

      Boom. Bust. Boom. Bust.

    5. You're hilarious IP. Those projects are very important, but in Sheridan Park, that little gem on Magnolia that has survived so much is important to us as well. If the house is truly doomed, we need to work with developers and they with us to make it a win-win for everyone. The Finans and the Rutherfords tried to play hardball with the community and I think assumed that they could somehow manipulate us all into a desired result. The only reason their request is still alive is because the block club failed to organize itself adequately and the alderman's office seems to be making up the rules as it goes in order to keep the upzoning request alive. As I said, they needed a majority to overturn the upzoning. They didn't get that. End of story.

    6. The vote is not binding on Cappleman. Now he will likely go along with it, but he doesn't have to. My prediction is the house gets torn down, the zoning remains the same for a few years and then just as the real estate boom is coming to an end the property is upzoned. Only to sit sadly vacant for another half decade beyond that.

      Letting neighbors have an input into what's happening in a hood is good. Letting them decide......not good. Sometimes a political leader has to buck the crowd and do what's best for the larger good.

      Making a decision based on the vote of a community group? Hell, generally nothing would change anywhere then as most people vote against any change. It's human nature.

      Let's let the folks who live at the lovely four star Wilson Men's Hotel vote on it's ultimate fate. Maybe let the folks in the Cornerstone Shelter vote too. They will have the only votes that count.

      Let's let JPUSA decide whether any additional new construction should be done in Uptown. After all their closeness to the Almighty should give them preference. Also should we change the zoning to preclude the new restaurant going in at the head of Blood Alley?

      Some people don't approve so let's VOTE.


      In any case it will be interesting to watch the fate of the little house that could or maybe could. Time will tell.

      Do you see the light?


      Is this issue worth the fight to Cappleman? Maybe. Maybe he has bigger issues to take on. Every battle is not Gettysburg and every issue does not need the equivalent of the charge of the First Minnesota.

  5. I'd like to see everyone call a moratorium for, say, six months. Can't build anything in this kind of weather anyway. The house has been there a century, another six months won't matter.
    - The house has had plenty of publicity now so if a buyer who wants to restore it comes along, this will give them time to get the financing together.
    - If no one comes forth to save the place, then the house's champions can say, well, we tried, maybe it is a white elephant with no future.
    - There are other empty lots, even double empty lots, that the potential buyers can explore, may be even cheaper for them to buy an already empty lot than wrecking an existing property.
    - The sellers can get over that wild-eyed "our back's against the wall" feeling.

    Me, I'd like to see the house stay and get rehabbed. But I got no skin in the game unless six numbers come up my way in Friday night's drawing. So if a decent chance is given for a preservationist to come forward and no one does, then I would regretfully conclude that the house has outlived its useful life.

  6. 17-13-0307 of the Chicago Municipal Code tells us that a valid complaint is one signed by 20% of the adjacent property owners. There is another section that spells out notification, but basically if you live or own property within 500 feet of the building, you can challenge the validity of the hearing with the zoning administrator. In either case, make an appointment with the neighborhood permit center and ask for their help.

  7. Will someone please video and post the proceedings for those that can't make it, please? (Just the bits where the usual suspects are cursing and stomping)

  8. What I find totally ironic is that this house will likely be torn down - and it is easily one of the best looking properties on the 4600 - 4700 blocks of Magnolia. It comes down, but up the street, we have government funded buildings that look like trash and two Buddist owned houses that are in horrible condition and are probably going to be the next single family homes in Sheridan Park to come down - unless they decide to make some badly needed capital improvements. I guess this is progress though.... sigh.....

    1. I thought what was even more disturbing was how repeatedly the Finans mentioned what a ghetto Sheridan Park is, how dangerous it is and how nobody wants to live here! Basically, we should be happy that they're even interested and take what we can get!

  9. I think they should be able to do what they want with the property. Unless they want to turn it into public housing or a crack house.

  10. Wow...normally I lurk and don't comment but Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez. I've been reading this site for years and don't recall seeing anything about this house (which has been a burned out shell for "decades") until now. To those who are concerned about what someone else is doing with THEIR property, I suggest you organize a bake sale or something so you can raise the necessary funds to purchase the property, at which point you can spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to rehab it.