To the editors:

Contempt for private property virtually oozes from Ben Joravsky’s account of the historic preservationists’ assault against the owners of “architecturally valuable” buildings in Oak Park (Neighborhood News, July 5).

The right to own property is why this country’s economic system has dramatically outperformed those which limit or outlaw private property ownership. Ownership does not simply “happen,” as Joravsky appears to believe: It is the direct result of hard work and productive behavior. Property rights are earned, not given (or taken away) by neighbors, committees, or journalists.

Integral to the right to own property is the owner’s right to do with the property as he pleases: sell it, “preserve” it, modify it, destroy it. If I owned an architecturally significant Frank Lloyd Wright home, I wouldn’t paint it purple or cover it with vinyl siding. Doing so would reduce its value if I decide to sell or use the house as collateral for a loan. Nevertheless, if I did wish to change the house’s appearance (perhaps to spite my neighbors, as the former director of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission attempted to do), I clearly have a right to do so.

Property rights can work to the benefit of preservationists who believe that some buildings have more value to “the community” (i.e., the preservationists themselves) than to their private owners. Let the preservationists establish an Historic Preservation Corporation, buy the buildings, and lease them to responsible tenants willing to abide by the preservationists’ terms. The corporation could thus preserve the buildings while at the same time preserving something far more valuable–property rights.

Diane Carol Bast

Publications Director

The Heartland Institute