by Michael R. Allen
At first glance, the vacant house at 2521 Farrar Avenue in Hyde Park offers familiar signs of distress in the built environment: Boarded first floor windows. Missing glass and mangled sashes in the second floor windows. A layer of siding over the original slate roof. Missing guttering stolen for scrap value. Red paint suffocates historic masonry.
However, the house has an unmistakable charm. Details cry out from beneath decay to remind us that the beauty never left — it just got covered and distorted. Owned the city’s Land Reutilization Authority, the house has been vacant for a long time but has the potential to be transformed using state and federal historic tax credits. Houses like these — vacant, but sound by public safety law and ripe for redevelopment — have prompted Alderman Freeman Bosley (D-3rd) to repeatedly state on the record that he will no longer support demolition in Hyde Park.
Bosley, alderman for the area since 1979 save for one four-year period, has watched a lot of architectural beauty depart from the neighborhood. In many cases, he has supported demolition. However, renewed interest in the area’s historic architecture and the sheer volume of building loss have led Bosley to become a proponent of saving historic buildings and creating new historic districts within his ward.
The trouble with the house at 2521 Farrar is that there is a developer who has used historic rehab tax credits interested in the property. The Irving School Partners, led by Michelle Duffe and Ken Nuernberger, has transformed many historic houses and Irving School into showpieces. Their efforts have been as remarkable to watch as the Crown Square project in Old North. They are taking on more historic buildings this year, including Eliot School in the north end of the neighborhood.
However, the developers want to demolish the house on Farrar for new housing. They have applied for preliminary review from the Preservation Board, and the matter is on the board’s April 27 agenda. A preliminary review gives a developer a sense of what the Board will allow.
Although I will support the work of the Irving School Partners, and have even once supported a demolition for new construction that they sought, I think that the house on Farrar deserves to be spared. Perhaps if full rehabilitation is too costly, the developers might consider mothballing the building for future development. The developers wish to strengthen the Irving School project by redeveloping the rest of the block — a laudable goal. However, preservation will be the best long-term investment here.