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Lincoln Park Lament

(Photo: The sexy, modern Bucksbaum residence–one of the few new Lincoln Park mansions that works. No screaming homeowner included. Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune.)

Yesterday began lazily enough as Devyn and I relaxed with the Sunday Tribune. Until we hit the magazine section. There it was, a bitingly critical article on the ongoing Lincoln Park McMansion craze, complete with pictures and an opinion piece by Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin. We knew we had a day trip in front of us (yes, kids, when you live downtown, Lincoln Park is a day trip).

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that D. and I do not take kindly to buildings designed around an architecture that never was. Faux-Victorian rowhouses with ground-floor garages, applied ornament from unlikely eras, historical bling for the sake of bling and not history. We’re with Kamin: buildings should grow organically out of their eras, not seek to be overgrown recreations of their better-done architectural antecedents. That’s an opinion we stand behind.

In fact, I strongly believe anyone with a point of view to share in public has a responsibility to stand behind the things they say, or do, or show. That’s integrity, and it became the watchword of the day for D. and me, as we walked among some of the boldest, most curious, and certainly most massive public statements that Chicago residential architecture has to offer.

In our walk up and down the north 1800 and 1900 sidestreets off of Armitage Avenue, the focus of the Trib article, we encountered several other strollers and drivers-by attracted by the newspaper’s coverage. We also encountered amiable locals of seemingly all sizes of wallet and floorplan.

And we met one extraordinarily unhappy local homeowner.

While D. and I were shooting pictures of her neighbor’s house from a vantage point across the street, one late-thirtysomething woman threw open her newly built mansion’s front door in a rage and yelled across the right-of-way:

“What do you think you’re doing? You better not be taking pictures of my house! What you’re doing is slimy!”

“Your behavior is upsetting families!” (This, of course, screamed at the top of her lungs in the middle of a residential neighborhood on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon.)

“We don’t want you here! Get off of this street! You don’t belong here!”

Now, you can dislike the fact that others may question, even deride, the design choices you make for the outside of your home. But you don’t get to choose who gawks at your home–or photographs it–from the middle of a public way. True, you can try as this homeowner did to bully your fellow, tax-paying Chicagoans into believing you somehow do have the authority to decide who is and isn’t allowed to walk down your street. But the fact of the matter is: you don’t.

I’m guessing it was the camera that set her off, poor thing. We didn’t know until much later that her particular house had been among those pictured in the Trib. Not that we admired it, mind you. But seeing as we were looking at a totally different house from across the street, we had to wonder whether this unhappy Lincoln Park local just didn’t grasp that when you build your home in the middle of the city, then you have to actually live in the middle of the city–with all the attention that goes with making a home among three million of your not-so-closest friends.

Funnily enough, my house gets that kind of attention, too. Every time an architecture tour boat cruises down the Chicago River, every time a family from Florida gapes up from the State Street Bridge, every time a half-drunken businessman stumbles out of the House of Blues, looks up at the two towers set amid the midnight sky, and hollers up to my balcony, my home gets that attention.

Everyone who lives in Marina City does so knowing that their home is an architectural icon. And not just on a neighborhood scale, either. More than likely, more shots are snapped of my home in a single day than camera-carrying gawkers snap of any Lincoln Park mansion in a month. While at times we may have the urge to do so, you don’t hear about Marina City residents dropping bricks, water balloons, or verbal shade on the passersby who do us the favor of actually talking about the merit of our high-rise home. We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to live inside an icon.

I would expect no less of an informed decision in Lincoln Park. No matter whether I think silly the stylistic decisions you’ve made for your megahome, oh unhappy Lincoln Park homeowner, the fact is you made those decisions, not me. So you ought to have the integrity to stand behind them and defend them, or discuss them. Calling your fellow Chicagoans “slimy” and “not wanted” in “your” neighborhood, deciding their right to discuss your publicly displayed taste from a public way is not to be allowed unless they’re fans of it, bespeaks a bankruptcy ominously far more than merely architectural.

“Get off of this street! You don’t belong here!”

Those statements speak for themselves. They’re not statements most Chicagoans would, or likely could utter, no matter the size of their checkbooks. In great measure, the beauty of this city of neigborhoods is that we try to muddle on as such: a city of neighborhoods. Of neighbors.

Any Chicagoan who feels their level of success makes of them a being of greater importance than their fellow citizens is no Chicagoan in my book. Not a criticism of the great majority of the happy, possibly wealthy, and very friendly locals Devyn and I encountered in our jaunt through the most-arrived end of Lincoln Park yesterday by any means. (Can you imagine Penny Pritzker standing on the front porch of her rapidly rising, marvelously modern manse and cursing at architecturally interested passersby?)

But an indictment of an attitude espoused by at least one Lincoln Park local that, frankly, stinks.

I’m sure somewhere in the darkest, deepest, most obscure and gated corner of the furthest Chicagoland suburb there’s an exclusive community absent a mansion. My advice to Unhappy in Lincoln Park is to do Chicago a favor: rectify that suburban community’s void by voiding yourself here. Behind a six-foot-high wall and a security checkpoint far at the edge of urbanity, I think you’d find a better fit.

Besides, just think how far your voice would carry across that neighboring cornfield.

Categories: Architecture

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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5 replies

  1. New Eastside Elitism

    (Photo: A case of mistaken identity in downtown Chicago’s New Eastside.) Although I, too, have highlighted the racism that some members of the New Eastside Association of Neighbors (NEAR) have used to fuel their opposition to the Chicago Children’s…

  2. Hey Mike! How’s that double cortado? Hehe… Just stopping by. I have to say, I enjoy your script an awfully great deal. And no, it isn’t all that shameful to share…even if you have a business card for it, too. Take care, and my your next cortado be delish!

  3. What I don’t understand about the McMansion craze is why, if people are going to copy architecture, they don’t at least copy architecture designed for this area? Instead of building something that almost belongs on a Parisian street or an English manor, why not build something that almost looks like it belongs there, like a neo-Prairie style house?

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