Fate of Naperville’s Magic Rock unknown as new owner makes plan to demolish house on the site

For more than a decade and a half, people have marveled at the Magic Rock of Naperville. A local landmark of sorts, the display is as nonsensical as it sounds: it’s a rock — or rather, a few — on which toys, knickknacks and trinkets have been added over time to form a mini menagerie made by and for the community.

The site over the years has become a destination, even earning itself official recognition on Google.

Lately, however, the future of the well-established treasure trove has been up in the air as redevelopment plans for the residential property get underway.

The rock is part of the property at 711 N. Brainard St., which was sold last summer. Though still in the permitting process, the new owner plans to demolish the house in the coming months, according to Sylvia Kanney, the owner’s real estate agent.

What will become of the Magic Rock? The owner, according to Kanney, isn’t sure yet.

He’s open to putting it on a pallet to save for later use if enough people express interest in preserving it, she said.

“It’s adorable,” Kanney said. “It really is cute.”

The Magic Rock was born some 15 years ago, when the Keith Richardson, the now former owner of 711 N. Brainard St. placed a small bird on a rock in his front yard.

“A little cardinal, or something,” he said. “Just to attract other birds. Like a (bird bath).”

When the bird was stolen, his neighbor brought him three replacement birds, Richardson said. Those were the Magic Rock’s first residents. From there, he started tacking on his own additions.

Then kids in the neighborhood caught wind of the whimsy Richardson was creating and wanted in. That’s when the donations began showing up.

“They started leaving things for me to put on,” Richardson said. “Their little toys, the little things that they had. Their little trinkets.”

Slowly, the Magic Rock grew and grew — into a small world to behold.

Cars of every shape and color ascend the ragged surface. On one edge, Buzz Lightyear sits back to back with a crocodile. Nearby, Mr. Potato Head serves as a spy, peeking his wide set of eyes just above the fray, his blue feet tucked beneath a pile of leaves. Overhead, a trio of Snow White’s dwarves stand in a huddle, one playing the accordion.

Eventually, as more and more characters joined the scene, Richardson had to bring in more rocks. Meanwhile, it became a popular place for passersby, kids especially, to visit.

“When I look out, I’ll always see little kids getting off their little bikes or pausing their walks with mom or dad to just stop and look at the stuff,” said Mary Fitzgerald, who lives across the street.

Shaun Cox said that when he and his family moved into the area two years ago, he was “super surprised” to see people drive by just to look at the rock.

Richardson said he knew of the Magic Rock-goers that came in from out of town just to see what it was all about.

“One time, a guy introduced himself and said he had come all the way from northern Wisconsin,” he said.

It went on that way until last year, when Richardson and his wife decided to put their house on the market. It sold in August.

Richardson, 82, said they had been trying to downgrade for a number of years. They relocated to a Naperville retirement community and said goodbye to Brainard Street, where they’ve lived for the past 40 years — leaving the fate of the Magic Rock unknown.

When they sold, Richardson thought “it would probably just get torn down,” he said.

In early December, residents within 60 feet of 711 N. Brainard received a “notice of intended demolition” from new owner Kevin Strickland of “Kstrickcorp.” According to online records from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, Strickland is a registered agent for Kstrick Corp., which is based in Naperville and specializes in concrete construction, per its website.

In early January, a demolition permit was issued for the property, Naperville city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said. As of Tuesday, the city had not received any building plans for the site.

Kanney said Strickland is working through the permitting process and demolition will start as soon as building plans are approved.

Neighbor Cathi Martin said she’d be “really sad” to see the Magic Rock go. It was part of what persuaded her and her husband to relocate from Woodridge to Naperville, she said.

“We saw the Magic Rock two doors down, and it was just really emblematic of how this is just a little micro-community,” Martin said, “and the fact that people had this connection and did this kitschy little thing. … It was really wonderful to see and really solidified us uprooting ourselves from (Woodridge).”

Since moving, Martin and her family have become frequent rock “sightseers.” Martin’s kids, who are 5 and 7, are avid fans.

“Anytime it’s nice out, even if we just need to get out of the house for 10 minutes, we will put on shoes, head outside, go two doors down and go look at the Magic Rock,” she said.

Martin said she’ll “be sorry that my kids will not be able to continue the legacy” of the Magic Rock — the original, at least.

Recently, she’s been toying with the idea of starting a version of the Magic Rock in her own yard.

“Perhaps,” she said, “it’s an opportunity for us to start something new.”

tkenny@chicagotribune.com