Could former President Ronald Reagan's childhood home, owned by the University of Chicago since 2004, become a parking lot for a future Barack Obama's presidential library, as one conservative columnist fears?
What becomes of American presidents' childhood homes? Franklin Delano Roosevelt's in Hyde Park, N.Y., is a National Historic Site and a museum. In Hope, Ark., Bill Clinton's has similarly been landmarked.
But one of Ronald Reagan's boyhood residences is scheduled for an unceremonious demolition. According to The Daily Mail, the Chicago home where 4-year-old Reagan lived from 1914-1915 is set to be demolished to make way for an unknown University of Chicago facility. The school has owned the property at 832 E. 57th Street since 2004 and kicked tenants out one year ago.
Reagan's former home was denied landmark status in 2011 by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks because it lacked architectural significance and wasn't associated with Reagan during his "active and productive years," The Chicago Maroon reports. A scheduled demolition in late December was halted at the last minute so the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development could reach out to the university to discuss alternatives to destruction. It has until the end of March to consider the home's historical significance.
Reagan's home faced numerous hurdles in petitioning for a special status. The 40th president of the United States only lived there for a year, and his other homes in California and Illinois already hold landmark standing.
The Reagans moved frequently throughout Illinois. Their 57th Street residence remained unknown until the 1980s when local resident Tom Roeser, according to the Chicago Sun Times, asked Reagan about the home during a trip to the White House. The president said he was unsure of its exact location, but that the address could probably be found in archived police records because his father — who the former president called a "common drunk" — was often arrested. Lo and behold, Roeser looked through police records and found 832 E. 57th Street as John E. Reagan's address.
Though he only spent one year living in the home as a toddler, Reagan remembered it fondly, remarking in a 1988 letter that he was inspired to become a fireman after watching fire crews sprint by his window, the Sun Times reports. Reagan also nearly succumbed to pneumonia in the dwelling, he wrote in the same letter.
For the past year, speculation has surrounded the university's plans for the property. Now The Daily Mail reports that the home will soon be demolished to make way for a parking lot. But a parking lot for what?
Writing for The Washington Times, columnist William Kelly suggests that parking lot could eventually serve President Barack Obama's future presidential library, which the university hopes Obama will want built on U-Chicago soil. "It is safe to say that Democrats don’t want any reminders of a Republican president named Reagan and his glory days a stone’s throw from a future Obama Presidential Library," the conservative scribe wrote. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago and his wife, Michelle, and close advisor, Valerie Jarrett, served as executives there.
Responding to The Daily Mail and Kelly's speculation, White House press secretary Jay Carney called reports of the site being converted to a presidential parking lot "false."
Even some liberal Chicagoans oppose the demolition. “Whatever you think of Reagan — once the building’s gone, it’s gone forever,” Hyde Park Historical Society board member Jack Spicer told the Sun Times, adding that the home served as a fine example of what was once a middle and working-class neighborhood. A demolition, he said, would only worsen an already acrimonious relationship between the University of Chicago and the city's residents.
State Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R) told the paper that a demolition would be a "big mistake," and the state's former Gov. Jim Thompson (R) suggested the university name the site in the former president's honor and place a plaque near it.