Tear down that wall? Not so fast: Permit to raze Reagan's Hyde Park boyhood home under review

January 2, 2013

A permit to demolish a boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan has been placed on hold as city officials decide whether the vacant Hyde Park six-flat is worthy of preservation, WBEZ has learned.

Heneghan Wrecking and Excavating Co., on behalf the University of Chicago, last Thursday applied for a permit to raze the three-story brick building, 832-834 E. 57th St. The move triggered an automatic maxium 90-day review by landmark officials because the structure is among a class of buildings with "potentially significant architectural or historical features," as listed in the city's Historic Resources Survey.

(The above news story from Voice of America last month shows the building's exterior and efforts to preserve the structure.)

The demolition permit is one of three currently under such review by the city. The list, which includes St. Boniface Church, 1352 W. Chestnut — the subject of a preservation battle for more than a decade — can be viewed here.

Reagan, a former California governor who served in the White House from 1981 to 1989, lived in the Hyde Park building with his family for about 10 months when he was four years old. It is one of several Illinois places Reagan lived as a youth. The best-known is the Dixon, IL home where Reagan moved when he was nine years old that has been restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Located on the northeastern edge of the expanding University of Chicago Medical Center, the building has been eyed for demolition since the university purchased it in 2004, angering some preservationists and Reaganphiles.

"[W]hile the university is more-or-less ignoring the Reagan home preservation effort, it is actively lobbying for an Obama Presidential Library,"  Former Reagan aide Peter Hannaford wrote in American Spectator last month:  "Chicago politics being what they are, the betting is on that project and not saving the cold-water flat apartment building in which the only U.S. president born and bred in Illinois lived during his boyhood."

According to ordinance, the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development can look at a range of preservation options — or none at all — during the review period, including a landmark designation.