Sunday, March 13, 2016

Judge Thomas Drummond's Home: When Historic Structures Reach the End of Their Usefulness

I've witnessed the loss of quite a few Silsbee structures in my lifetime. Some, like the ones pictured below, had been so altered and become so dilapidated that it was hard to imagine how they could ever be re-used. There are also about a dozen structures, like the Oakwood Mortuary Chapel, that are in grave danger because they sit in a state of ruin and disuse. I guess it shouldn't surprise me when a community turns its back on a landmark-worthy structure and allows its demolition but it does.    
Between 1990 and 2010, these were three of the Silsbee-designed structures demolished in the city of Chicago. From left to right: The Kirkland School (1891), one of the Piper Row Homes (1887), and a House for John Cochran at Edgewater (1890).
A home that will soon be added to the list of Silsbee structures demolished in my lifetime is the Thomas Drummond House in Wheaton, Illinois. Airhart Construction has been given approval by the City to demolish the home and make way for a new town home development. I've written about the Drummond house before but since its demise is imminent, I felt it was important to visit the home again for a final look.

View of the Thomas Drummong House from West Street.
I've watched the home deteriorate over the past 15 years. It has sat there with little to no maintenance or care so it isn't surprising that some people think its condition is beyond repair. The way it has been treated seems to be a common strategy for people that own old homes like this, holding on to them and then cashing them in for the value of land alone. This seems to be what Wheaton has had in its plan as I've also watched as this neighborhood has transformed to a street of modest yet nicely-designed single-family homes to a series of block-long town home developments.

Most of Silsbee's shingle style homes have details that are borrowed from classical architecture. This is a view of the Paladian window in the front gable of the Thomas Drummond House.
News for the home's demolition broke last October and the process of its fate has woven its way through the local Zoning Board and City Council. Preservationists didn't take much notice. What I always found interesting about the home was that it is precisely the kind of home that Silsbee's most famous employees, George Maher and Frank Lloyd Wright, would have worked on in that office. So few of these exist in the Chicago area that one would think that architecture buffs would find some interest in the loss. The folks at Prairie Mod seemed to take notice but otherwise, it didn't seem like much of a loss.    

View of the Drummond House from the alley to the north.
Discussion of the property by City officials has remained focused on the new development and there is no record of people in community raising concerns about the loss of historical resources. In addition to its unique position in architectural history, the structure was home to one of Wheaton's most prominent citizens. He had an interesting political and judicial history that seems worth of remembering.   

View of the Drummond House from the south with a view of the double-gable roof and open porch beneath.
The home is not a grand mansion. It was meant as a retirement home for the judge. Though it is not elaborate, it is designed by a master and the home has many elements that became typical of his work: carefully detailed and well crafted exterior, long open veranda across the front and recessed porches in the second story. 

View of the end of the veranda, facing the south.
View of shingle detailing.
Are there elements of the home that can teach us anything about the architect or the homeowner's history? Is there a tangible loss to this neighborhood and to the City of Wheaton?  Is there a cost to what we perceive as "economic development" that is actually working against communities with the "demolish and develop" mindset?  Do we demolish so many of the unique historical aspects of the places where we live that there ends up being nothing special or attractive about those places?

View of the Drummond House from the southeast.
I feel that so little is widely known or appreciated about this home, its architect, or the man that built it, that it is hard to say what we are losing in terms of historic resources. I guess I have some photos to continue to sort all of this out. Unfortunately, we will lose the interior detailing, grand staircase, and fireplaces, so a great part of the home's history will simply be lost forever.

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