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Razing Reagan

Apr 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 28 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Absent a miracle, Ronald Reagan’s childhood home in Chicago will be slated for demolition this week to make way for a new facility owned by the University of Chicago. It’s a sad and unnecessary end to a historic residence of a president born and bred in the state.

Reagan's Chicago Home

Those who would preserve the place have tried just about everything. But the small-minded Commission on Chicago Landmarks has refused to give the small apartment building on 57th Street landmark status. It’s not “associated with Mr. Reagan during his active and productive years,” and the building “does not have sufficient architectural significance,” the commission decided. How about historic significance? Meanwhile, an effort to raise millions to buy the property and turn it into a Reagan museum failed to raise enough in time.

Was politics a factor here? Of course it was. Chicago is a Democratic redoubt and the Reagan site is in Hyde Park, better known as the neighborhood of President Obama. No doubt that home will be lovingly tended for centuries to come. And the University of Chicago is also said to be lobbying for an Obama Presidential Library in Hyde Park. Even a small Reagan presence—recalling a president who overshadows Obama—might clash.

The university won’t bear all the blame when the Reagan home is torn down. Conservatives and Reagan fans are partly at fault. They haven’t rallied to the cause, though they’ve had plenty of time to do so. Instead, they appear satisfied that Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico, his home in Dixon as a teenager, and his four years at Eureka College are sufficient memorials to our 40th president’s more than two decades in Illinois.

Reagan lived in Chicago for 10 months in 1914-15 when his father Jack worked for a store on the South Side of the city. The Reagan family rented a flat in the four-story building in Hyde Park. Reagan almost died of pneumonia that year. The site “figured in the development of his character (his political philosophy came later) and thus is important to understanding this very significant president,” ex-Reagan aide Peter Hannaford wrote in the American Spectator.

The 102 miles from Eureka to Dixon—Tampico is in between—has been designated the Reagan Trail. And the house in Galesburg, where Reagan lived for two years after the family left Chicago, has been beautifully restored by its private owner.

The Chicago flat, in contrast, is quite ordinary. But “the ordinariness of it all—where one of our most extraordinary presidents once lived—is worth preserving,” writer Mary Claire Kendall, who has spearheaded the drive to save the home, and Nicholas Hahn wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times.  Indeed it is.

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