A sign commemorates Ronald "Dutch" Reagan in downtown Dixon, Illinois.

“like selling fragments of the True Cross”

In Dead Presidents by Brady Carlson0 Comments

A sign commemorates Ronald "Dutch" Reagan in downtown Dixon, Illinois.

It’s the end of an era in Chicago: soon one of Ronald Reagan’s boyhood homes will be no more. It’s been a long, slow march toward the wrecking ball for this apartment complex – a group of community activists had hoped to convince the University of Chicago, which owned the place, to let them turn it into “a museum and center,” but the university clearly had other plans.

I wasn’t able to visit the place when I was in Chicago last fall, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it before the wrecking ball arrived. That said, at least the preservationists had a pretty colorful plan B:

“Break the walls, floors, ceiling and fixtures of the Reagan family apartment into small fragments and sell them on the Internet for between $100 and $1,000 a chip, depending on the size,” Frances Vaandervort, a board member of the Hyde Park Historical Society, said in a letter to the university’s newspaper… “This should raise many thousands of dollars for the university, rather like selling fragments of the True Cross.

Most presidents had one boyhood home, and for them a situation like this would never have come up. But Reagan’s “boyhood home” situation is more complicated, given that his family moved around a lot. The family’s house in Dixon, Illinois, about 90 minutes or so west of Chicago, became the “official” boyhood home because a) they thought of it first and b) it was the first home in which the grown-up Reagan remembered living. The Reagans lived in Chicago when he was just two, and only for a year or so. Is that enough to warrant a “museum and center?” Or even simply historic preservation?

I’m not taking sides – my only point here is to show that these lines are fuzzy. To that end, here’s an interesting point of comparison: the Reagans owned a house in Pacific Palisades, California from 1957 to 1981; it’s the house where Ronald Reagan took a call from President Jimmy Carter to concede the presidential election of 1980. That house is still standing, and it’s still in private hands – in fact, it sold for $5 million earlier this year. If the Chicago apartment is historic, surely this one is too – and it’s got a pool!

The University of Chicago says it plans to put a plaque up where the apartment building stood. I’m already putting it on my to-visit list. If you’re looking for a Reagan home, you’ve still got plenty of other spots to choose from along the Ronald Reagan Trail in Illinois.

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