EAST CHICAGO | Ten houses in the Marktown neighborhood that were sold to BP are scheduled for demolition May 5, renewing residents' concerns about preserving the history of their homes.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company has, for the past 20 years, bought houses from owners willing to sell in Whiting and East Chicago around the refinery and will turn the properties into green space.
The properties previously were owned by George Michels and his family, and include houses on Dickey Road, Grove Street, Liberty Street, Oak Street, Riley Road and Spring Street.
BP sent letters to all adjacent property owners April 15 informing neighbors of the scheduled demolitions.
Residents are concerned removing those houses will cause more property owners to sell, putting the community's historic value at risk.
The neighborhood dates back to 1917, when Chicago industrialist Clayton Mark offered the homes to attract employees to work at his pipe manufacturing facilities. The community, designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, was inspired from English townhouses.
While designated a historical asset on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, properties are not protected from demolition until a city approves an ordinance to create a historical review board.
Kim Rodriguez has lived in Marktown for 55 years. She fears it may be too late for the 10 buildings purchased by BP, but she said she and other property owners still can keep the company from buying every property.
"They can buy up whoever they want to buy from, but they'll have to work around me," Rodriguez said. "Fifty-five years of memories. I can't imagine just walking out the door and never coming back."
Rodriguez said the money BP has offered to owners wouldn't be enough for them to buy new homes without going into debt.
Paul Myers, head of the Marktown Preservation Society, said the community can be saved if it stays united.
"In 1955 they wanted to zone our community as industrial," Myers said. "We fought that as a community and won. We can win these battles if we stand together."
Residents will try to set up meetings with Mayor Anthony Copeland and ask for a stay of demolition for 90 days.
Copeland said he welcomes meetings with residents, adding there have been discussions over the past year since BP first suggested purchasing properties. He said he hasn't heard concerns about the issue for about six months.
Dean said BP has cooperated with the city's building department throughout the process and works with a licensed real estate agent.
"We will continue to have discussion with any other property owners who are interested in selling their property," Dean said. "We follow a very open and voluntary process."
Rodriguez believes there's more to the story. She wonders if the homes put the refinery at risk of lawsuits.
"Marktowners don't know the whole story," Rodriguez said. "I know they're saying they want to make a green space and a parking lot, but they're not going to tell us about their real plans."