Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dick Uyvari, Unsung Hero Of Uptown Revitalization, Passes Away

via the Uptown Historical Society:
Uyvari in 2011, photo by Ross Forman

This Sunday, November 1, we invite everyone in the Uptown community to celebrate the life of Dick Uyvari, one of the truly unsung heroes of Uptown’s preservation and revitalization. Uyvari passed unexpectedly in early September, and his memorial is this Sunday at the Center on Halsted beginning at 10:00 a.m.

In 1975, when Uyvari and his life partner Joe LaPat began working in Uptown, the Sheridan Park neighborhood did not even know its name. While the name was known to the history books, it had been long forgotten by the community.

The degree of urban decay had to be seen to be believed. Local resident and historian Martin Tangora moved to the area that year, and in the following five years, four buildings on his block (out of 22) were destroyed by fire.

In Sheridan Park, it was common to find apartment buildings and single family homes that had been, in the interest of profit, cut up into multiple units. Examples were a six flat cut up into 36 dwelling units, a two-flat converted to 11 units, and a single family home, 4636 N. Beacon, converted into a nursing home.

Uyvari and LaPat sought to right this wrong by buying and rehabilitating these homes. Unlike modern flippers, the pair focused on the quality of the housing stock and worked long hours to do renovations the right way. Their work was immediately recognized both in the neighborhood and citywide.

At the City House expo in 1980, Uyvari and LaPat’s rehabilitation of their first project, 4551-59 Beacon, won first prize in its category.

This success spurred others in the community to act. Local groups pointed to the award in encouraging others to rehabilitate their properties, and existing owners joined new members of the community in beginning to rehabilitate the buildings.

In 1985, as neighborhood-wide rehabilitation efforts were beginning to get off the ground, local residents and community groups banded together to apply for recognition of the effort through official designation of the Sheridan Park National Register Historic District. The publicity in turn led to many more rehabilitations and restorations, as owners and new residents came to recognize the quality of the housing stock in the area. Demolition by neglect was halted, and many of the original six-flats and larger apartment buildings were deconverted, using preservation tax incentives, to their original configuration.

While not all the rehabilitations of the 1980s and 1990s were done in the same historic spirit that Uyvari and LaPat brought to their renovations (some buildings were gutted by necessity and rebuilt from the inside out), the loving and detailed restoration work done by Dick Uyvari and Joe LaPat became a model for the community that is still followed today.

Dick Uyvari and Joe LaPat were involved in the following renovations in Sheridan Park:

1. 1975-2003: 19-unit apartment building,
4451-59 N. Beacon St. (& 1319-21 W. Sunnyside Ave.)
This building won Uyvari and LaPat a citywide rehab award in 1980

2. 1977-2003: 16-unit apartment building,
4550-56 N. Beacon St. (& 1351-53 W. Wilson Ave.)
CHRS orange rated.
Uyvari and LaPat spent more than $100,000 to solve the problem of the building’s spectacular cornice, with a four-foot overhang, that had lost its structural integrity, as well as the beautiful copper work inside.

3. 1978-1982: private residence
4535 N. Beacon St.

4. 1979-1982: private residence
4636 N. Beacon St.
CHRS orange rated.
Originally the residence of prominent construction company owner Andrew Lanquist. When Uyvari and LaPat purchased the building, it had been a nursing home for 30 years. Uyvari and LaPat restored the building’s incredible hardwood interiors and returned the home to a single-family configuration.

5. 1979-2015: apartment building,
4529 N. Malden St.
CHRS orange rated.
Originally a luxury two-flat, when Uyvari and LaPat purchased the building, it had 11 apartments. They paid $66,000 in 1979. The building was deconverted in stages to 6, then 4, and now 3 apartments. Uyvari called the building his "Mona Lisa," with extensive work put into the exterior masonry and restoration of the interiors, which were of exceptional quality. Uyvari and LaPat spent $1 million in rehabilitation costs in total over the years.

6. 1985-2014: private residence
4527 N. Malden St.
When purchased, 4527 Malden was a communal home with several unrelated families. Uyvari and LaPat kept this as their private residence, and Uyvari was a prominent resident on the block. The residence featured incredible woodwork and original paintings on the walls, all restored by Uyvari and LaPat.

7. 1986-1996: apartment building
4639 N. Beacon St.
This was originally a three-flat that had been converted to multiple apartments. Uyvari and LaPat's work returned it to a three flat. Uyvari and LaPat’s rehabilitation began by carrying out 26 large garbage bags full of empty cat-food tins.

8. 1993-1996: private residence
4538 N. Malden St.
Uyvari and LaPat repaired and refinished the building’s interior, particularly the woodwork.

All these buildings were in various stages of neglect before Uyvari and LaPat bought them. Deferred maintenance, decay, and abuse from residents had brought many close to demolition. Uyvari and LaPat gave them new leases on life, including new plumbing, new electrical systems, and most importantly, detailed and extensive wood repair, replacement, and refinishing.

So, this Sunday, remember one of the men who made Uptown what it is today, and give thanks for his contributions to our community.

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