River Forest officials approve demolition of Trage home
Updated: April 8, 2013 10:47AM
RIVER FOREST — The steadily deteriorating house at 203 Franklin Avenue, once home to the family of John and Catherine Trage, will be demolished soon.
Monday night the River Forest village board approved a demolition contract with Robert E. Lee & Sons for $37,231.79. That demolition is expected to commence within the next four to six weeks and take six or seven days to complete.
The board action follows a Feb. 1 ruling by a circuit court judge who ordered the demolition following a presentation by village officials and other experts.
Village Administrator Eric Palm said the village took the action only after attempts through other avenues failed.
“That house has been an eyesore and a public safety issue for some time now,” Palm said. “We want to protect the quality of life for people in that neighborhood.”
The house has stood abandoned since a suspicious attic fire on Aug. 11, 2010. John Trage left soon after that for Hawaii, where he continues to live.
Catherine O’Connor Trage died under mysterious circumstances in February 2008, while vacationing with John Trage in Mexico.
David O’Connor, Catherine’s brother, attended Monday night’s village board meeting. He said the looming demolition is “bittersweet.”
“It’s bitter from the standpoint that it’s the house my sister lived in and raised her family in,” O’Connor said Tuesday. “If the house wasn’t damaged, I’d be all for ‘Let’s have someone buy the house and make it a home again.”
Palm also addressed what he said was a misconception on some people’s part that the village is seeking to purchase the house.
“That’s not the case. We’re just making sure the structure comes down,” he said. “John Trage still owns the property.”
Three banks hold mortgages on the property. None have begun foreclosure proceedings.
Last September the village board directed the village attorney to file suit “seeking remediation or demolition of the home and detached garage pursuant to a court order.”
On Oct. 5, the village was granted an administrative search warrant to allow experts to fully inspect the structures on the property.
That included a structural inspection, assessment of mold, a real estate appraisal of the property and land and a contractors estimate for renovation.
After failing to make contact with Trage between last November and January, the village pushed ahead with the lawsuit. On Feb. 1, the village argued that public safety concerns, pervasive mold, dangerous structural deterioration and the high cost of addressing those issues argued for tearing the house down and selling the land to a developer.
The village said there have been 22 service calls to the 203 Franklin address in the 30 months since the fire — “an extremely high number for any property in River Forest.”
Mold remediation would cost an estimated $38,600. Weather exposed inner walls, studs and flooring all would need to be replaced, at a total estimated cost of $211,495.
With the property land appraised at $250,000, the appraiser issued an opinion that the land was worth more than the projected improvements to the house.
That ratio, the village argued, “far exceeds the 50 percent threshold required to obtain a demolition order.”
Judge James Gavin agreed and issued the demolition order.
O’Connor said he and numerous members of Catherine O’Connor Trage’s birth family, including her parents, will be watching when the demolition commences.
“It will be hard to watch, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I hope it brings a little bit of closure.”