Thursday
July 24, 2014

Chicago Real Estate Developer and Housing Advocate Dies

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Chicago Real Estate Developer and Housing Advocate Dies

John W. Baird—prominent Chicago real estate developer and champion of fair housing, open space, and historic preservation—died on December 27 after suffering a stroke eight days earlier.

Baird was up until recently past president and chairman of the board at Baird & Warner, which currently operates 23 brokerage offices—as well as mortgage and title units—in northern Illinois. But he will perhaps be best remembered for his dedication to causes that often seemed at odds with his personal financial interests.

In 1962, as president of the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, he called on the Chicago City Council to pass an open-housing ordinance. The ordinance, which passed after a heated debate in 1963, ostensibly barred discrimination in real estate sales “against any person because of his race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry.”

Baird’s stand against housing discrimination earned him the ire of many of his colleagues at a time when many industry practices perpetuated de facto discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other minorities. In 1965, Baird resigned from the Real Estate Board, which his family had helped start, in protest of such practices. After open housing became accepted, Baird declined to characterize his stand as something particularly intrepid, saying it was simply, “the right thing.”

Baird was also instrumental in redevelopment and conservation efforts in Chicago. As a longtime board member of the Trust for Public Land, he helped make a number of public parks and conservation projects possible. He also served on the Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks for four decades. Baird held positions with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and in 1996 he co-founded NeighborSpace, a nonprofit urban land trust dedicated to helping community groups maintain gardens.

A native of Evanston, Ill., Baird received a degree in history with distinction from Wesleyan University in 1938 and a master’s degree in business from Harvard University in 1940 before serving as an Army captain during World War II. After the war, he joined Baird & Warner, a Chicago real estate company that had been owned by his family since 1860. In 1963, he succeeded his father, Warner G. Baird, as president. Baird served as president of the company until 1991, when he was succeeded by his son, Stephen W. Baird. Still, the elder Baird continued to serve the company as chairman of the board until shortly before his death at the age of 98.

—REALTOR® Magazine Daily News