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Preservationists: Don’t Lower Bar For ‘Old Main’

The following is the position paper that Lake Forest Preservation Foundation President Suzanne Boren read to the Lake Forest Historic Preservation Commission at its monthly meeting on Oct. 26. It’s reprinted with the LFPF’s permission and regards “Old Main” on the Barat property. Be sure to read the addendum at the bottom of the letter.

October 26, 2011

Mr. Kurt Pairitz, Chairman
and Members of the Lake Forest Historic Preservation Commission
The City of Lake Forest
220 East Deer Path
Lake Forest, IL 60045

Dear Chairman Pairitz and Members of the Commission:

Anonymous donors have offered to purchase the Barat property and donate it to Woodlands Academy. The donation might permanently secure the Barat property for educational purposes and might settle the fate of this long-endangered property.

A CHALLENGE TO THE FUTURE OF HISTORIC PRESERVATION IN LAKE FOREST

The petition before the Historic Preservation Commission to rescind the Barat property from the Lake Forest
Historic District challenges the future of historic preservation in Lake Forest. The petition seeks to avoid the due process prescribed by the Lake Forest Historic Preservation Ordinance by requesting the City to approve delisting in order to obtain a permit to demolish “Old Main” and clear the property. Due process requires the Historic Preservation Commission to first consider issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness for a petitioner’s request to rescind in order to demolish. If the Commission denies that request, the petitioner can then enter the appropriate
process of requesting approval of a Certificate of Economic Hardship, as prescribed by the Ordinance.

To rescind a property from the local Historic District as a means to move directly to permit a specific historic building to be demolished and land to be cleared violates the requirement of the Ordinance, Section 51-11-(A)(3), which requires proof that the property no longer meets any of the criteria for inclusion. The inclusion of the Barat property in the Lake Forest Historic District remains valid because the property continues to meet criteria (1), (2), (5), (7), and (8) of Section 51-5 (A) (1-10) of the Ordinance. (Please see attached Appendix for details.)

We strongly urge the City to enforce the conditions of its Historic Preservation Ordinance. The appropriate process as defined by the Lake Forest Historic Preservation Ordinance is the Certificate of Appropriateness/Certificate of Economic Hardship route. As a Certified Local Government with four National Register Historic Districts and a local Historic District with more than 30 local landmarks, The City of Lake Forest has a legal obligation to enforce its law to protect the future of the historic resources of the community.

We shall appreciate your consideration of these comments and suggestions.

Sincerely,
Suzanne Boren
President, for the Board of Directors

cc: Mayor Cowhey and Members of the City Council, City Manager, Director of Community Development,
Members of the Plan Commission

The Lake Forest Preservation Foundation
Committed to preserving the historic visual character of Lake Forest

APPENDIX TO LETTER OF October 26, 2011

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BARAT PROPERTY

The Board of the Lake Forest Foundation for Historic
Preservation has studied (1) the historic building known as “Old Main,” and (2) the Barat
landscape, including the front lawn known as “The Hill,” the adjoining landscape bordering
Sheridan Road, and features such as the east ravine. “Old Main” and the landscape are
included in both the Lake Forest National Register Historic District and the local Lake Forest
Historic District.

Together, this historic building and landscape are cited as a “contributing resource” in the
National Register Historic District. This means that they comprise “a building, site, structure,
or object adding to the historic significance of a property.” This designation defines the entire
property as significant in defining the history of Lake Forest. (Meets Ordinance Criteria [1], [2],
[5], [7], [8].)

Architectural historians recognize “Old Main” as a monumental, distinctive American Colonial
Revival building that has defined the southeast entrance to Lake Forest since 1904. (Meets
Ordinance Criteria [1], [5].) ”Old Main” was designed by prominent late-nineteenth- and early-
twentieth-century Chicago architects Egan & Prindeville, who gained national distinction for
designing ecclesiastical buildings for the Chicago diocese and for the Catholic Church
nationally, including the Cathedral of St. Paul in Pittsburgh. (Meets Ordinance Criteria [2].) The
Barat land, which includes a religious cemetery honoring the memory of the sisters of The
Sacred Heart who founded and taught at Barat and Woodlands, is a significant local historic
cultural landscape, including the front lawn, the adjoining Sheridan Road streetscape, and the
east ravine. The founding of the school in Lake Forest by the sisters of The Sacred Heart order
has been defined as a deliberate decision to place their institution to educate and finish the
daughters of Chicago’s Catholic elite in the community which was home to the Protestant elite,
the power group of Chicago’s business and civic leadership group. (Meets Ordinance Criteria
[7], [8].) 1



Comments

  1. Art, if I can understand you, it seems you are criticizing the seller for trying to get the most it can for its property. Hmmm. How much of your own money are you willing to contribute towards restoration?

  2. People did hear that there was a bidder who wanted to save the structure, who spoke up at the meeting, to convert it to apts. for seniors, and followed the bid rules. At the meeting the agent for the seller said the bidder who spoke up at the meeting was not credible. That proposal is cataloged (Spectrum) and available at Special Collections, Lake Forest College. The person making the assessment of “not credible” did accept the bid that did not follow the bid criterion of saving the structure, and was substantially larger. Once again, a decision not to save the whole building puts more money in the hands of the seller, as did the sale in 2006, to DePaul (LF has its first art museum, $8 million, but at DePaul in Lincoln Park–the difference in a sale that would have saved the whole building and what Barat paid, it can plausibly be surmised.

  3. I have to agree with Pat and Elizabeth. Old Main has become a derelict eyesore. It no longer marks the South entrance to Lake Forest with beauty and grace. It looks like the opening set to a Stephen King movie. If the Preservationists feel so strongly about saving the structure, then perhaps they should raise the money to purchase the property and restore it. There are several once historic homes and building which have been torn down over the years, and subdivisions are now on them. This would not be the case for the demolition of Old Main. A school would continue to use the property, and would most likely turn what has become an eyesore, into a beautiful piece of property once again. I am a bit surprised that with all of the concern, nobody has addressed what will happen to the cemetery which is on the property. At least in the hands of the school, the RSCJs buried there could rest in peace.

  4. life-long LFer says:

    If one measures the value of our town in terms of economic metrics, there is only one response to the problem: tear it down. But for those of us who understand the immeasurable value in historic preservation, we see something far more critical than dollars at play. (If you do not understand that there are such things, then you are simply not persuadable.) As a realist, may I point out that the cost of most residential sq. footage in Lake Forest is greater than $300 (yes, even in this climate), if the estimated residential sq. footage is 200,000 x $300 the residential value is roughly $60,000,000. Combine that with the value of the surrounding land, $20 mil is an investment. Of course the market is terrible right now. Markets change, economies rise and fall, but buildings like this are forever gone when they are gone. And once the cultural, architectural, historical nature of the town is diminished, the intrinsic value of your property diminishes with it. As educational property, the city will have no tax revenue, so, even realists should see that TEAR IT DOWN is a short sighted, irreversible solution and Old Main (as well as LF) deserves better.

  5. Debbie Schulz says:

    It is unrealistic in this economic climate to conclude that the money for full restoration will ever become available. There is a wonderful offer on the floor to renew the property to the use for which it was originally intended. Is the town ready to provide the funding to secure the deteriorating building and keep it free from teenage party goers for the coming decades or isn’t it better to take advantage of an extremely unselfish and generous donor whose gift will enhance the neighborhood and town? I hope that the city will revoke the preservation status as it makes good sense for the town and its citizens.

  6. Elizabeth Miller says:

    What this opinion fails to address is the simple fact the building, through long neglect, is falling down. Conservative estimates to repair and/or restore it when Robert Shaw owned it were over 20 million. I love the place; I went to school there. But LFPF and Historic Preservation can either become realistic and let it return to highest and best use as an educational institution property in the hands of its historic owners, without the building on it, or watch it, in this economic environment, continue to crumble behind plywood sheathing.

  7. Since the question of the historic and architectural significance of Old Main was raised by the petitioner at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting the day after this statement was approved, an article on the subject I wrote in 1997 for Barat’s alumni magazine is available from the Preservation Foundation website that addresses these points: http://www.lfpf.org/baratcollege/pdfs/ColonialRevival.pdf . More on Barat’s architect and history is at: http://www.lfpf.org/baratcollege/index.htm .

  8. Preservationists: if you don’t want Old Main torn down, then provide all the funds necessary to restore it.

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