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A piece of Reagan history

Lewis wants plaque where former president's Chicago home stood

Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
This six-flat building at 832 E. 57th St. in Chicago was home to Ronald Reagan from ages 3 to 5. Efforts by Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home and others failed to save it from demolition, and now Ann Lewis, perhaps Dixon's most ardent Reaganophile, is trying to get a plaque to mark the site.

CHICAGO — Ann Lewis is making sure nobody forgets Ronald Reagan once called "The Windy City" home, too.

Demolition work started Thursday on the Chicago apartment Reagan called home from ages 3 to 5.

The vacant six-flat building at 832 E. 57th St. is being removed for the expansion of a medical research center near the University of Chicago.

While efforts to save the building failed, Lewis, who worked on the Reagan Centennial Commission, wants to see historical markers placed on the property. She is working with university and state tourism officials to make the marker a reality.

"Reagan was proud to be born in Illinois and Chicago was significant to him," the Dixon woman pointed out. "It would be nice if we could get a marker with an etched-in photograph of the home and some history or anecdotes."

Since one of the buildings across the street will be used for Alzheimer's research, she also is hoping information could be put inside that building about Reagan and his battle with the disease.

"I'd love to see a few pictures of the house, and maybe some history," Lewis said. "It's a great coincidence the only president to battle Alzheimer's grew up across the street from somewhere where they'll be doing research on it."

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks determined the building did not meet the criteria for landmark status. It does not have architectural significance and is not associated with Reagan during his productive years, the organization reported.

Reagan survived pneumonia in the gas-lit Chicago apartment, and he and his 6-year-old brother, Neil, sold popcorn while living there.

Mary Claire Kendall, who led a group called Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home, wrote an epitaph to the building.

“To paraphrase Billy Wilder’s classic line in Sunset Boulevard, in the end, Reagan is still big. It’s the hearts that got small," Kendall wrote.

Reagan's Boyhood Home and Museum on Hennepin Avenue in Dixon and his birthplace in Tampico remain the lone boyhood homes preserved of his many residences, including those in Galesburg and Monmouth.

Lewis said Dixon and Tampico gained attention during the efforts to save the Chicago structure.

"It's been wonderful for us," she said. "Reporters called Michael Reagan and he told them people should support the home in Dixon and Tampico, and they wrote that."

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