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Kenwood House Rehab Stops "Crime of the Century" From Crumbling Away

By JoshMogerman in News on May 20, 2012 8:00PM

Bobby Franks House [Zol87]

May 21 marks the end of the NATO summit. Despite our collective Chicago freak-out, it remains to be seen if anyone will remember this weekend down the line. But almost 90 years later, we are still talking about a grisly incident hatched just a few miles south on the same date. And a rehab project underway in Kenwood ensures a physical link to “the crime of the century” will stand as a reminder for decades more to come.

On May 21, 1924 University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and murdered their 14-year-old neighbor, Bobby Franks. Seemingly every aspect of the crime and trial invited spectacle: from the wealthy and smart, young killers out for a thrill to Clarence Darrow’s defense that stood as one of the first uses of psychological evidence.

And while little of Leopold and Loeb survives today, since neither have grave markers and their homes have long-since been bulldozed, one physical connection to the crime story remains: the Franks mansion. The house sits prominently at the corner of 51st and Ellis, where it has been slowly crumbling for more than a decade. But work is now underway to restore the property to its former glory, as Hyde Park Progress reports with keen relief:

As many have probably noticed now, one of the most glorious residential buildings in Hyde Park-Kenwood, empty for over a decade and seriously deteriorated, is being restored to its original exterior appearance. I've spent the last decade or so waiting for the wrecking ball to visit this one. Happily, I'm delighted to see that someone is taking a risk on it. Foster Design Build is taking on 5052 S. Ellis after having done similar work on another historic landmark building, 5040 S. Greenwood, next door and immediately to the north of Obama's home.
Kenwood boasts what must be one of the quirkiest walking tours in the country, featuring the homes of Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Minister Louis Farrakhan and one of Chicago’s most under-celebrated philanthropists Julius Rosenwald (not to mention the treasures of the neighboring University of Chicago campus with Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated Robie House and the birthplace of atomic energy under Stagg Field). But when it comes to infamy, nearly a century later, the Franks house still tops the list. The rehab helps ensure a reminder that will likely keep Chicagoans talking about Leopold and Loeb long after memory of the NATO 3 fades.