Iconic pink house goes up in smoke
BY ERIKA WURST email@example.com September 29, 2013 8:00PM
Firefighters stay low to the floor as a controlled kitchen fire rages over their head. The Aurora Fire Department performed a live burn drill Friday on a house slated for demolition. | Jon Langham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2013 6:10AM
Like the thick smoke in the air on Friday in Aurora, nostalgia whirled around Keith Berkhout.
As he stood beneath the pear tree from which he once picked fresh fruit, Berkhout watched as flames licked away a home filled with memories.
Every nail, every screw, every detail of the iconic pink home at 1195 Church Road had been created with love by Berkhout’s grandfather John Dieser in 1948. Four generations called the pink house home before it was sold in 1997.
On Friday, the home was burned down as part of a live-training exercise by the Aurora Fire Department. Room after room went up in flames, before the entire structure came tumbling down.
For Berkhout, the sight was something surreal.
“I have driven by here for the last 16 years, and to be able to come inside again is like something out of a dream,” he said as he wandered one last time through the now-vacant home, just minutes before the first fire was struck.
But instead of seeing the now-down-trodden house for what it is, Berkhout saw it through different eyes. He saw the home for what it was — a place where and his family had spent decades building memories.
“I can picture the grandkids coming through the front door,” he said. He remembered where the Christmas tree sat, where the cookie jar once called home, and smiled almost sadly as he ran his hand along the screen door on which he used to bump his head.
“This is where these things really happened. It is sacred ground for us. It is surreal to be here one last time,” he said.
On Friday, the walls were bare. The carpet had been ripped out, and the glass windows were covered with boards. The place was dark and desolate, and ready to be burned. But that wasn’t always the case.
More than 60 years ago, the home was something dreams were made of.
The two-acre property was given to Berkhout’s grandparents, Delores and John Dieser, in 1948 as a wedding gift. The property belonged to Delores’ parents, the Brouches, who lived in adjacent farmhouse.
On the newly acquired land at the corner of what is now Church Road and Indian Trail, the newlyweds built a small house in which they would raise their family. That home would later go on to become legendary throughout the growing city.
In 1963, the Diesers added a large addition, and installed the famous pink aluminum siding that has made it a landmark for decades.
Berkhout said delivery men would beg his grandparents to never change the color of the home, as it had become their most notable landmark.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “But if it is going to go, I am glad they are making good use of it.”
The home was sold in 1997 and was eventually ruined by renters, Berkhout said. The new owner, Bob Bonifas, gave the department permission to demolish the structure as part of the new recruit training exercise.
“There are just so many good memories here,” he said. “Everyone knew the famous pink house on the corner.”
Which is why it was so important for Berkhout to grab a couple pieces of pink siding before there was none left.
“Four generations called this place home,” he said. “This is hard to believe.”
The Brouch family fell in love with Aurora in 1920 while visiting friends. It was then that they decided to buy a country farm off a small gravel road that is now Church Road.
Back then, Aurora was made up of mostly small farmettes, but it wouldn’t remain that way for long.
Dolores — or “Dee” — one of the Brouch daughters, was raised in the original family farm home before her marriage in 1946.
Dee was wed to John Dieser, who had just returned home from World War II before taking her hand in marriage.
When the Dieser family built their home, Aurora was a much different place. Back then, residents could still hunt pheasant and other game throughout the area. Their property became a staple for hunting and family gatherings. It was also the place where John Dieser, an avid golfer, would practice long drive, where grandchildren would pick fruit from the trees, and where the local fire departments would come to flush out their water tanks and hoses on the large open lot to the south of the house.
On Friday, those firefighters returned, but with a much different mission. This time, they were there to start a fire, not put one out.
“It’s a lot different this time around,” Berkhout said.