119-Year-Old Ravenswood Club Building May Face Wrecking Ball
by Peter von Buol
A prominent 119-year-old-building at the corner Wilson and Ashland Avenues may soon be demolished as the property’s current owner, a congregation of Buddhist monks, has reached an agreement to sell the property.
Located on a large corner lot, the stately wood-frame building was built in the architectural tyle known as Classical Revival. Originally designed by architect John E.O. Pridmore for the long-defunct Ravenswood Club, its design was meant to project permanence.
The building’s unique features include a full-width front porch with classical columns and pilasters and a wide front-facing gable roof with a smaller secondary intersecting gable roof on the north side of the building. The building’s front entrance is also set back far from the sidewalk on Ashland Avenue and has an unusually large front yard. A two-story addition, designed by architect Niels Buck (who was also a prominent Chicago architect), was added to the rear of the building in 1902. Buck’s addition also used the Classical Revival style.
This is not the first time the property has been threatened with demolition. In 2004, its then-owner, the Paul Revere Masonic Lodge, had informed the community it could no longer afford maintenance costs and that they would be selling the building.
Faced with losing a noteworthy building in the 47th Ward, the ward’s then-alderman Gene Schulter, and Preservation Chicago, a non-profit organization dedicated to architectural preservation, asked the city of Chicago’s commission on landmarks to research the history and the condition of the building.
Months later, the commission’s report confirmed the building was worthy of preservation.
The authors of the report described the building as possessing “fine physical integrity” and it was recommended that “all exterior elevations of the building, including rooflines” should be preserved. The authors also recognized the building’s historic relationship to the surrounding community.
Soon after the report was published, the property was sold to a congregation of Vietnamese Buddhists who notified the community they were dedicated to the preservation of the building and its grounds. Among the first improvements made to the property was a decorative wrought-iron fence with Buddhist scrollwork. Early on, however, the congregation announced its plan to alter the building’s roofline to a pagoda design. Such an alteration would have directly affected the building’s architectural integrity and was discouraged by its neighbors. Not being able to alter the building’s roofline, however, may have been a contributing factor in the congregation’s decision to move to Elmwood Park and the property quickly acquired a forlorn appearance.
According to Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, while the city’s report was compiled in 2004, the Ravenswood Club building would still merit preservation.
“It would still qualify for Chicago Landmark Designation, if restored, with a responsible buyer, dedicated to the community and its historic fabric. We really need more sensitive developers in Chicago, working to reinvest and to re-use, and to redevelop these historic properties. Wholesale demolition is not the answer, and we need to encourage more preservation and reinvestment in these historic resources across Chicago,” Miller said.
Pridmore’s prolific career spanned from 1883 to 1940. He designed the Bush Temple of Music, 100 W. Chicago, a Chicago landmark. In addition, many of Pridmore’s designs have been recognized for their architectural and historical significance and are listed on the city’s official historic resources survey.
The Ravenswood Club was a private social club similar to a country club. The building also hosted its affiliated organizations such as the Ravenswood Women’s Club and the Ravenswood Improvement Association. In 1920, the club sold the building to a pair of Masonic organizations. By 1927, the Paul Revere Masonic Lodge took over full ownership.
For more than 80 years, the fraternal organization operated the building and it served as a beacon to the community. In 2004, lodge officials decided they could no longer afford the building’s maintenance costs and announced the lodge would be selling the property.
Interestingly, there is some discrepancy as to the age of the building. While city records indicate it had originally been constructed in 1899 for the Ravenswood Club, lodge records seem to indicate it had actually been built around 1885 as a private home.