Leave the Seat Empty: 5446 South Kimbark Avenue

Leave the Seat Empty consists of photos taken of buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come.

The vast majority of the city's demolitions are vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. In most cases, the doomed buildings are not deemed architecturally or culturally notable enough for proactive preservation efforts to succeed, where such efforts exist. They are most frequently replaced by new single family homes, or by empty land. These patterns aren't universal among demolitions, but are common outcomes of Chicago's current legal and market environment around land use, building vacancy, and new construction.

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago's policies around building demolitions often fail to protect historic structures. There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances, but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to campaign effectively against demolitions they might oppose. I seek to document many of Chicago's doomed buildings in their final days, often with green demo fencing already up, and be present to acknowledge their disappearance.


5446 South Kimbark Avenue

Permit issued 07/19/2023

Like many buildings in Hyde Park, this now-demolished dwelling was home to a handful of local and national notables over the years. Originally constructed near 1880 as a two-unit structure and converted into a single family home sometime during the second half of the 20th century, it sat in Hyde Park's oldest section. When 5418 South Kimbark and 5420 South Kimbark were torn down in 2022, it became the last wood-frame home left on the block.

The home's final occupants both attended school at UChicago during the middle of the 20th century and were enmeshed in the social and civic life of the neighborhood - one was the son of the late economist Roy Blough, having chosen to stay in Chicago after following his parents there during the elder Blough's brief time teaching at the university. The younger Blough passed away in 2023, after which his wife moved out and sold the home to MK Construction, a local residential real estate development firm.

Blough and his wife lived at 5446 S Kimbark for decades, but before they purchased the home in 1984, it was held by the family of a respected cancer researcher who studied under famed geneticist Janet Rowley during the time he was situated at UChicago. He's still active in academia today, situated at the Temple University-affiliated Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.


Prior to that family, the home was owned by David and Valencia Coar for a portion of the 1970s. David would go on to be the first Black law school faculty member at the College of William and Mary, and was eventually appointed Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois during the Clinton administration. Valencia was guest curator of a noted RISD-sponsored 1984 exhibition about the history of Black photographers in the U.S. whose accompanying book included essay contributions from Michael R. Winston and Angela Davis, and she later directed a nonprofit focused on community-led low income housing development, among other varied activities through the years.

By the time of the 2023 sale, the 140-year-old building that was once home to each of these influential figures had significant deferred maintenance needs. MK Builders bought it with the intention to demolish, and worked with prolific Park Ridge-based architect Andy Kacprzynski to plan a new three-unit building in its place, currently being constructed on the site where the old house once stood. Once complete, proximity to UChicago will likely grant the new building future associations with new generations of distinguished academics and civil society figures, just like the building that preceded it.