Crain's Chicago Business

The family of developers who bought a Wilmette house built for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago may soon dismantle it rather than move it.

"Moving turned out to cost more than we can afford to invest, and demolishing it isn't what we want to do," said Max Kruszewski, an executive in his father's Wilmette firm, MJK Homes, which paid $915,000 for the Chestnut Avenue site in December before architecture historians uncovered the house's historical value.

Moving the house to a new site would cost at least $100,000, he said, "and it goes up the farther you move it. On top of that, "nobody has shown up saying they have the land we can move it to," and buying land to put it on is out of MJK Homes' reach, he said.

Kruszewski estimated it would cost about $50,000 to dismantle the house, which is built of a bolted-together steel frame and clad with panels attached to the frame.

MJK Homes bought the site, two-tenths of an acre that was advertised as buildable land with an obsolete house on it, hoping to subdivide the land and build two new houses.

Shortly after the sale, as Crain's reported last month, the house turned out to be a model home built at the Century of Progress World's Fair and later moved to Wilmette. Though rundown, the home is nevertheless an artifact of the fair's effort to showcase inexpensively built homes in styles that were modern for the day.

Max Kruszewski met with preservation groups and at least one architect and is convinced that "it's not a house you want to tear down and throw away."

While a decision to dismantle the house is not yet final, Kruszewski said, "we're leaning that way because of the cost."

He said he's hoping a person or organization that can take the pieces of the dismantled house materializes before the process begins, because storing so much material would be costly for his firm. The pieces of the house are being offered free if a user wants them.

More on the historic home

Developers stumble upon World's Fair home in Wilmette

Architecture sleuths solve mystery of that World's Fair home

"We won't start dismantling for at least a month," he said, while the firm awaits Wilmette's decision on the application to subdivide the land.

The town's plan commission will discuss the subdivision proposal Feb. 6, said John Adler, Wilmette's director of community development. Because the proposal conforms to village codes and requires no variances, it's likely to pass that day and move on to the village board for final approval by the end of February, he said.

The question of demolishing or dismantling the house is not part of the board's discussion, as the home has no official landmark status.

"If the developer has found that moving the house isn't cost-effective, then dismantling it would be the next best situation," Adler said.

Kruszewski said a team of architects and developers proposed moving the house to one side of the lot and restoring it while MJK built on the other side, but the deal did not work out because it didn't suit MJK's financial plan for the site. It would have left room for MJK to build only one new house on the property. Kruszewski declined to say how much the firm expects to ask for the houses it will build there.

If a recipient of the pieces can be lined up before dismantling starts, he said, "we'll give them time to go in and pull out the interior parts they want to keep," such as the staircase that is known to be original. If the house is dismantled without a recipient, MJK will take apart and catalog only the frame and exterior cladding, he said.

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