John Bohnen says Hinsdale is all about history and its classic houses are a big reason why.
“It gives the town a sense of being as opposed to Plainfield, Illinois, [which] grows out of a cornfield,” said Bohnen, a historic preservation commissioner. “There’s a history to this town. A lot of what this town is, and what people like about it, is an outgrowth of history.”
Bohnen owns County Line Properties and, as Patch reported last summer, has lived in a neo-classic Georgian on 1st Street for the last 38 years. He opined about the teardown trend after village trustees earlier this month discussed the likely demolition of the 122-year-old home at 206 N. Washington St.
The 206 N. Washington home was sold through Teardowns.com, a Clarendon Hills-based company that connects sellers of land with redevelopment potential to interested buyers, after the homeowner received no offers with traditional realtors for two-and-a-half years.
After the trustees discussion of 206 N. Washington, Bohnen wrote in a Patch blog post that "the sound of the wrecking ball has become far too familiar in recent years, as we see home after home vanish and be replaced with great imposing structures."
In the essay, originally published in County Line's newsletter way back in 2000, Bohnen acknowledged that some old Hinsdale homes are indeed dated, and some new homes are indeed tasteful.
"However," he wrote, "in more than a few instances, our regal Victorians and quaint cottages are being replaced with replicas of castles from the Loire Valley, replete with turrets and moats—monuments to conspicuous consumption."
READ: Bohnen's blog post "TEARDOWNS"
Bohnen serves on the Village of Hinsdale Historic Preservation Commission that is chaired by Scott Peterson, a general contractor and project manager who conceded that maintaining an old home is not easy.
“It takes a certain individual that appreciates it, because a lot of people don’t have any appreciation for it and don’t care,” Peterson said. “It’s a lot easier for a builder to come in and say, ‘I want to dump this house,’ then it is for the builder and architect to come up with a preservation plan.”
The commission chair said his stance on preservation was inspired by his work in 2005 on the renovation of the Chicago Board of Trade.
“And then I got it. I understood it,” Peterson said.
Peterson and Bohnen said the historic preservation commission wants to spread the word to residents about the pros of preservation during the village's upcoming “Preservation Month,” which will run from April into May. There will be contests for the best historic homes and the best additions to historic homes, as the commission hopes to engage the community and teach them about formal recognitions the village’s historic homes can attain.
“Our mission is to promote awareness of historic structures and a general history of the town,” Bohnen said. “We promote awareness, and in doing so, we provide information to people who are interested [in] landmarking their homes.”
There are three types of landmarks in Hinsdale, according to a handout from the historic preservation commission posted with Bohnen’s blog post.
Homeowners can ask that their home be a local Hinsdale historic landmark, which legally protects the building from exterior changes “that would compromise its historical and architectural significance.” The historic preservation commission approves all exterior changes on such homes.
This status helps protect homes against demolition and allows an owner who wants to renovate to participate in the state’s property-tax freeze program, which keeps property taxes on such homes from rising for eight years.
Homes that have local historic landmark status include 120 S. Elm St., a classical revival-style home built in 1893; 514 S. Garfield St., an R. Harold Zook home built in 1928; and 317 S. Park Ave., a “Second Empire” style home built in 1873.
The other two recognitions, neither of which protect houses against demolition, are a Hinsdale Historical Society plaque, which notes the year a “historically notable” home was built, and a listing in the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
Being listed in the National Register of Historic Places does allow for participation in the tax-freeze program.
Bohnen said resident awareness of these designations is important.
“That might be the saving grace that keeps Hinsdale unique in the western suburbs,” he said.
With a majority of new Hinsdale residents preferring new over old, Bohnen said, realtors need to be educated on how to sell historic homes and the benefits, such as the tax freeze, that can go along with renovating them.
He said a widespread overhaul of Hinsdale’s housing stock would turn Hinsdale into a town no different than Naperville, Oak Brook and Burr Ridge.
“Either you develop an interest or a love for history or you don’t,” Bohnen said. “If we end up with a population that doesn’t appreciate history, that would be a shame.”
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