CHICAGO (CBS) — An historic landmark in Highland Park soon could be torn down; but residents are teaming up to save the house, and its artful wooden floors created by 19th century craftsman William Walter Witten.
Surrounded by chain-link fencing, construction equipment at the ready, a sole survivor stands near the edge of downtown Highland Park, next door to a construction trailer.
“This appeared about a week ago, the trailer,” said Keane Taylor, a Highland Park resident trying to save the home from possible demolition. “They tried to remove landmark status from the house. … We’re all nervous.”
The plaqued local landmark, which dates back to 1894, is a Victorian farmhouse known as the William Walter Witten Home.
“It was like a showcase for him,” Taylor said.
Witten, who raised his family in the house, was a talented woodworker, and created the parquet dance floor that was a prize-winner at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Architectural archives show how, piece-by-piece, much of the dance floor’s intricate wooden designs and emblems were dismantled, transported to Highland Park, and reassembled like a puzzle inside Witten’s home.
“It’s a showpiece, where you come in and it’s on display,” Taylor said.
Witten went on to construct artful wood floors throughout the house, even in the kitchen.
“To put something so beautiful and intricate in a kitchen, where you’re dropping pots and pans and other heavy objects, was quite fantastic,” Taylor said.
Capital Seniors Housing has purchased and razed most of the block surrounding the Witten house, to make way for an assisted living center. It also owns the Witten Home, and is seeking permission from the city to entirely demolish the local landmark.
It also has submitted detailed plans to remove 11 significant wooden portions of the home and floors, to repurpose them inside the center.
At the heart of this story is historic landmark status, and when a community chooses to enforce it or not.
“In this case, I feel like I’m a preservationist,” Taylor said.
Keane Taylor is just a nearby resident who fell in love with the home’s history and floors. He’s now circulating a petition urging the city of Highland Park to save the Witten Home from the wrecking ball.
“This is who we are, and to take all of our history and destroy it, whether architectural or cultural, is wrong,” Taylor said.