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It’s Time-Again-for Pro-Active Preservation


The ten projects represented by this year’s Driehaus Preservation Awards are truly inspirational. They represent the best of what Illinois preservationists can accomplish through determined advocacy campaigns, creative bricks-and-mortar solutions, and innovative public policy initiatives.


Yet, at the same time that we celebrate these great accomplishments, we continue to witness futile battles to preserve some of our state’s most important historic and architectural resources.


In the past few months alone, we have seen the following headlines:



“One of the oldest buildings in Elmhurst torn down.” “Walter Burley Griffin residence in Winnetka razed.” “Clarendon Hills’ only National Register property leveled.” “Frank Lloyd Wright house in Glencoe threatened.”


In each case, local preservationists fought long and hard to preserve these important structures. Yet, in the end, they were seriously hamstrung by one simple fact. None of these Illinois communities had an effective local preservation ordinance.



In the case of Clarendon Hills and Elmhurst, there are no local landmarks ordinances to protect important buildings. Meanwhile, the preservation laws in Glencoe and Winnetka require the consent of the owner for an important property to be designated a landmark.


This is absurd. After all, it has been more than 70 years since the first local preservation ordinance was instituted in Charleston, South Carolina. And it has been 25 years since the constitutionality of these ordinances was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Penn Central case.


Land-use regulation is an accepted tool to ensure the preservation of important structures—and community character—for the benefit of all citizens. Today, roughly 2,000 communities nationwide have local preservation ordinances; there are more than 50 in Illinois.


Yet, we continue to fight individual battles to save important structures in communities that aren’t willing to arm themselves with the most basic tool: a local preservation ordinance. If the “heroic rescue” is our main technique for saving buildings, then we haven’t advanced the art of preservation very far.


Rather than waste efforts on each individual campaign, it’s time to wage the big one. Organize your neighborhood groups. Lobby your city council or village board. Draft a local ordinance—one without an owner-consent provision. And adopt it.


If a community believes it has buildings worth saving, it needs to enact a law to protect them. Or face the consequences … futile battle after futile battle.


More teardowns can be found at: Going, Going, Gone







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