City Council rejects landmark designation for Sigma Chi-owned house

1726 Hinman Ave.

Source: Cook County Assessor's Office

1726 Hinman Ave.

Molly Glick, Reporter

Evanston City Council voted Monday against an ordinance that would have designated the mansion at 1726 Hinman Ave. a landmark.

The 7-2 decision, with only Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) voting in favor of the proposal, followed a clash between neighbors and the property’s owner, the Sigma Chi Foundation.

The ordinance’s defeat resolved questions about the rights of homeowners versus the community’s obligation to preserve landmarks.

The Sigma Chi Foundation filed a request with Evanston in late 2016 to demolish the historic mansion, also known as the Ward Nyden Manor House, located next to the fraternity’s headquarters. In response, Evanston resident Jim Kollross submitted an application with the city to designate the property as a landmark in December 2016.

Evanston’s Preservation Commission reviewed the case and, along with City staff, suggested the adoption of now-defeated Ordinance 47-O-17.

During the public comments period of Monday’s meeting, which preceded Council’s vote, Kollross claimed that the preservation effort had the support of the entire community, as well as of architects across the country.

“We have 100 percent support,” Kollross said. “It’s hard to get 100 percent support on topics in any town, including Evanston.”

According to an Evanston Preservation Commission report, 18 interested city residents wrote in support of the landmark nomination and no comments were written in opposition.

Kollross said that Sigma Chi had mistreated the property and therefore damaged the home. The fraternity cleaned the gutters of the headquarters next door while neglecting 1726 Hinman’s gutters and also attempted to illegally demolish the mansion one night, Kollross said at the meeting.

“We know that not every owner consents, but we know that it’s okay if they don’t, because the greater good for the city is to protect these properties,” Kollross said.

Sigma Chi Foundation attorney Manuel Flores resisted claims that the fraternity sought to benefit commercially from demolishing the property.

“The Sigma Chi Foundation is a charitable organization,” Flores said at the meeting. “We’re not engaged in development, we’re not looking at this as an opportunity to reap money from the community.”

Flores added that the foundation obeyed procedure and did not try to hide from residents.

“We were never given the opportunity to address neighbors; someone informed the City of Evanston what our plans were,” Flores said. “We followed the rules and we respectfully request that you deny the petition to landmark.”

Numerous neighbors of the property also addressed City Council, detailing their personal connections to the property.

Ann Langan said she chose to live in Evanston because she was drawn to Hinman Avenue, including the historical mansion.

“It’s a beautiful home and a notable architect,” Langan said. “If that building should go, it would be very upsetting.”

The Evanston historic preservation statute, Ordinance 47-O-17, claimed that the property “maintains its original quality of design” and “most of its high degree of craftsmanship.”

Famed Swedish architect John Augustus Nyden built the mansion, where he later lived, in the Colonial Revival style in 1921. Nyden has designed seven structures classified as Evanston landmarks, as well as eight Illinois structures on the National Register of Historic Places. He served as the Illinois State Architect from 1926 to 1927.

The fraternity’s ties with the property began in 1976 when Evanston granted Sigma Chi permission to house visiting national members of the fraternity. Later, Sigma Chi used the home as an archive and housed a fraternity historian there.

Flores said that he hopes to work with city zoning laws on Sigma Chi’s property in the future.

“There is a fundamental difference between the zoning code and also land marking,” Flores said. “To use a landmark when a landmark is not warranted, we are looking at a slippery slope.”

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