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Ravinia Neighbors Association Blog

Welcome to RNA’s Blog Page which features articles from Ravinia writers. Although articles are chosen in accordance with topics we feel are relevant to Ravinia and of possible interest to our readers, RNA does not necessarily endorse the opinions put forth in the blog posts. If you would like to comment on any articles put forth in the blogs, please use the comment box that follows each post.

The Face of Preservation

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

By Jeff Stern

For some "painted ladies" and other historic structures, Highland Park's hero is Elliott Miller, of Ravinia, whose passion is to rescue architectural treasures from being crushed by the wrecker's ball.

Armed with photographs and documentation relating to the architects and builders of particularly significant houses, Miller has made it his mission to speak up for them at hearings of the Historic Preservation Commission or meetings of the Highland Park City Council, where property owners or developers may seek permission for demolition.

Painstaking research has enabled Miller to make convincing arguments for preserving such gems as the Sheridan Road home William Boyington built for Palmer Montgomery in 1892, A. G. Becker's 17-acre lakefront estate, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw and landscaped by Jens Jensen, and a George Maher house, which all stand today largely as testaments to Miller's efforts.

As a technical writer with degrees in anthropology and archeology, Miller comes by his interests naturally. Born in Baltimore, he read books on dinosaurs as a boy and once aspired to be a museum curator. His interest in local history was spurred by his 1986 move into a Dean Avenue home that was landscaped by onetime neighbor Jens Jensen.

Looking around other parts of the neighborhood, Miller became enamored of the homes of artists and musicians who established a colony in the area. Like visitors who sometimes appreciate local culture more than the people who were raised there, Miller felt that for the community to maintain its ambiance, greater effort was needed to preserve its architectural and horticultural treasures.

Miller's interest in historic buildings and history in general were heightened by his studies at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute and as an intern at the Field Museum, where he became intrigued by archeological field work. He put this background to good use as a consultant and developer of archeological and ethnology exhibits at the Spertus Museum of Chicago and in Highland Park.

Besides writing journal articles and exhibit catalogs, Miller has served as a board member and newsletter editor of the Friends of Jens Jensen, a group that highlights the work of Ravinia's illustrious landscape architect. He also helped develop programs of more local interest, such as an exhibit celebrating the centennial of Ravinia School, which all three of his sons attended.

Miller served eight years as a member and one term as chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission and five years on the board and one term as president of the Highland Park Historical Society. A Ravinia stalwart for a quarter century, Elliott Miller is the go-to authority on historic preservation in Highland Park.