Friday, April 20, 2007

House for Sale, not Confiscation

While perusing real esate ads in Winnetka, I came upon this interesting listing on 900 Private Road (some name for a road). This 1911 house, by my old neighbor Dwight Perkins (albeit 90 years removed) is a real American Arts and Craft masterpiece, described variously as Prairie Style, Tudor, and a Manor House, this place is nothing less than an Perkins finest work.

Well, just when I was about to post a pleasant reference, I read through the full description, and found an interesting name in the owner logs...FDR Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes. If I have an archenemy, it is Harold Ickes. I have always found him a convenient nemesis, as he is about 90 years older than I am, hardly ever in town, and has many more worthy and aggressive enemies than I, even if we were contemperaries.

Why Ickes? Lets see, I live right by the L at the point where it becomes a street car system (for about 1 mile). It is a shambolic mess of missed schedules, filth, and Soviet style efficiency. But it wasn't always that way...The L, a conglomeration of passenger rail lines, was put together by one of my heroes, Samuel Insull. Insull delivered consistently low prices for service, and was actually able to lower fares (as well as electric rates) on a year to year basis. Clean, efficient, low prices, what better candidate for confiscation by the Roosevelt Administration?

You see, Harold Ickes was supposed to work for Sam Insull in WW1, on War Production in Illinois, utilizing the Prairie State's considerabale economic output for the war effort. Ickes was not pleased by his 2nd level position, and was subsecquently sidelined by Insull, resulting in the War being won, but Ickes having a bruised ego. Ickes struck back.

Starting in Winnetka by smacking Insull consolidation of Com Ed in the 1920's, Ickes finally got his painfully misguided vengance as Interior Secretary, leading huge public works projects during the Roosevelt Administration. Via some extra-constitutional authoritarianism, Ickes claimed vengance for his lack of promotion 20 years past, by confiscating the L from the Insull companies, and making it the public nuisance it is today. Higher fares ever year, reduced service, poor maintenance, and slower travle now than 70 years ago, as brought to you by the man that owned this fine house.

I will not begrudge Mr. Ickes his choice in architects. Dwight Perkins was one of the greats (Bill Hassabrock is writing his biography btw). However, the next time you are repulsed by the L service in Chicago, be sure to think of the Winnetka tyrant with the $10 Million house that made it that way, all in the name of Progressive Government.

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