by Michael R. Allen
The house on June 20, 2005. Photographs by Michael R. Allen.
Built in 1902, the house at 4961 Penrose Avenue is located inside of Penrose Park and is slated for demolition in favor of road and park improvements. The design of this house is an uncommon blend of Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts tendencies; the slate jerkin-head roof and side entrance add variation to what otherwise may have been a common red-brick period house. The demise of the house is predicated on its supposed separation from the surrounding parts of the Penrose neighborhood, but it actually is less than a half-block from the nearest occupied house.
Although the house had been put into use at the residence of the Keeper of Penrose Park as early as 1906, enough of the surrounding neighborhood remains to give it a visual relationship to the neighborhood. Across the street is Scullin School, and to the southeast are mostly intact blocks of brick and frame houses and two-flats. In fact, with widespread demolition in north city, a passer-by would likely assume that the space between this house and the next one to the south are simply vacant lots produced by demolition. This is not far from the truth — houses did stand there, forming a street wall in which this house was located. The cleared lots and this house became part of park, though, which seems to be making the difference in the Board of Public Service’s drive to tear it down.
Road improvements to nearby Kingshighway are in progress and did not entail demolition, although the work is creating a road between this house and others on its side of the street. A planned amphitheater on this site could be re-designed to let the house stand.
Perhaps when the city’s last park-keeper moved out in the 1980s, the city should have returned the house to the neighborhood by selling it. The time is not too late for the city to make the right move now. If the house does not sell, perhaps some park-related function could be found for the house. Park houses are a valued part of south side city parks, and the city does not push to demolish them.
Consideration of the Board of Public Service’s demolition application by the Preservation Board in May 2006 led to a vote in favor of a one-month deferral. Staff from the Cultural Resources Office recommended approval of the demolition on the condition that documentation be made. This position stemmed from the seeming hopelessness of trying to save a building supposedly isolated and in the way of public works projects. However, memebers of the Preservation Board led by Luis Porrello seemed posed to deny the permit until member Richard Callow moved to defer a vote one month, to the June 2006 meeting. Callow wanted staff to photograph the interior so that the board could more thoroughly assess the potential for reuse.
At its June 2006 meeting, the Preservation Board again heard the matter. A staff member from the Board of Public Service attended, waived his right to have a quorum hear the matter, and then proceeded to merely endorse the staff recommendation to approve demolition instead of actually providing testimony. Michael Allen, Steve Patterson and Claire Nowak-Boyd provided testimony on the re-use potential of the building as a cultural centerpiece of Penrose Park. Commissioners John Burse, Richard Callow and Anthony Robinson all voted to deny the permit.
View to the southeast down Penrose Avenue.