Irving House

Wilmette and Evanston

In the waning hours of a deadline set by a developer who intended to demolish the 1928 Prairie-style Irving House, designed by noted architect John Van Bergen, Chris Enck, a project engineer with the firm Klein and Hoffman and vice-chair of Landmarks Illinois’ young professionals’ Skyline Council, bought the house for ten dollars and orchestrated a complicated move of the house from Wilmette to Evanston. Within three months, Chris was able to hire a building mover, have the house divided into three sections to prepare it for the move, identify a temporary site to relocate the house, negotiate logistics and permits with the Village of Wilmette, the City of Evanston, and various utilities, and on October 10th, watched by dozens of neighbors and onlookers, have the first and largest of three sections of the house moved from 1320 Isabella Street to 2748 Green Bay Road, the future site of a new Whole Foods store. The remaining two sections were moved three days later. This bold move was an act of determination, perseverance and complete altruism.

The Irving House was identified in Wilmette’s East Wilmette Historical and Architectural Survey in 1993 and in the state’s 1970s architectural survey. Its architect, John Van Bergen, worked in the office of Frank Lloyd Wright and is considered one of the great Prairie School architects. In early 2012, Martin Hackl, an expert in the architecture of Van Bergen, and writer Eric O’Malley of the architecture blog PrairieMod, brought the plight of the house and its adjacent cottage (designed by noted architect Rudolph Schindler when he was an employee of Frank Lloyd Wright) to the attention of Landmarks Illinois and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (FLWBC). The double lot property with the two structures was up for sale and had no landmark protection – a definite tear-down target. Soon after, a developer purchased the property to build two new homes. With the FLWBC, LI quickly began negotiations with the developer and village officials to find a compromise. With a needed lot split, the developer agreed to re-sell the Irving House, allow the cottage to be moved by a party identified by the FLWBC, and to build only one home adjacent to the Irving House. The Irving House was rented and relisted for sale.

For over a year, the house was safe from demolition while it was rented, but not safe from purchase by another developer with the intent to demolish and rebuild on the site. Wilmette will not landmark without owner consent, and while the developer had agreed to not replace the house, he did not consent to landmarking. By the spring of 2014, Wilmette officials notified LI that another developer had purchased the Irving House. Negotiations took place with the second developer resulting in an agreement to again relist the house for one month’s time, but unfortunately at an elevated price. Enter Chris Enck.

“After hearing about the threat to the house for two years at Landmarks Illinois, I knew that if I didn’t save this house, no one else would,” Chris told a reporter the day of the move. After the developer agreed to an October move date, the following three months of preparations was not without headache and at one point it seemed doomed. Initially a lot had been identified on Green Bay Road in Highland Park, but the logistics of coordinating with IDOT, ComEd, Comcast, AT&T and six municipalities along the proposed 8.5 mile route made the project prohibitively expensive. As utilities were being removed and the house cut in sections, Chris scrambled to find a new lot. He found one in northwest Evanston one week before the move leaving little time for purchase, permits and site prep. Unable to delay, he approached Whole Foods which plans to open a new store on Green Bay Road in Evanston. The company agreed to allow the three sections of the house to be “parked” in their parking lot until the final move to the new site. Then Chris will rehabilitate the house, work with the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission to landmark it, and resell it. The day of the move, neighbors thanked Chris for saving the house. Jack Weiss, Vice-chairman of the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission who also watched the move stated, “We are lucky to have Van Bergen’s Irving House moved to Evanston. It will now be one of three we are proud to see in our community.”

By the numbers:

Sections house cut into – 3
Days from initial meeting with developer to first move day – 58
Number of moving crew 4-5 guys (number left on site the week of the move after the flu went around – 2!) Ha, another complication
Height of house on wheels – 27’
Distance from original site to final site: 2.5 miles
Number of overhead obstacles along the route to the final site: 2 stop lights, 3 wire crossings, 3 tree branches
Time for first move (front section) 9am left the site, 4:45 arrive at Whole Foods 4 blocks away
Time for second and third sections- 9am left the site, 12:45pm both sections at Whole Foods

From October 2014 until March 2015 the house rested on the lot of a yet to be built Whole Foods on Greenbay Rd., while site preparation for its new location at 2771 Crawford Rd. was completed. Since its relocation, Enck added a full size basement, increasing the home’s size to 3,000 sq. feet, and upgraded bathrooms and the kitchen. Enck plans to seek landmark designation by the City of Evanston, which would enable a purchaser to utilize a property tax assessment freeze.

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