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Mansions in Chicago Past and Present
By BILL CUNNIFF Homelife Reporter   - 02/06/2005

Chicago Sun-Times

A new picture-book -- Chicago's Mansions -- honors vintage homes built all over the city. The book is divided into four chapters: North Side, South Side, West Side and Lost Mansions. Each chapter has black-and-white pictures of dozens of huge homes.

The cover of the book might fool you at first glance. "The casual observer might think this is a picture of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant with Abraham Lincoln," said John Graf, the author, a historian and a Realtor with Re/Max Showcase in Lake Forest. Actually, it's a late-1860s photo of the McCormick family, relatives of Cyrus McCormick, the wealthy inventor of the reaper. "So many of the McCormick family lived in the area that the neighborhood [near Rush and Ohio streets] was known as 'McCormickville,' " he said.

The captions in Chicago's Mansions note the history and the architects of the elaborate residences and the people who lived in them. In the foreword, Robert B. Remer of the Edgewater Historical Society, invites readers to consider the circumstances of the times while looking over the posh mansions.

"Many [owners of the mansions] were first-generation successes who wanted the best for their families, but were never fully accepted in Chicago's top society," Remer said. "Many built where their mansion was perhaps among the first in a trend to add value to their community."

Many of the homes were built when now-revered architects were still unknown. "Frank Lloyd Wright began his career as a draftsman of lovely homes in the development of Edgewater, then a Chicago suburb, in the late 19th century," Remer said.

Let's look at a few examples from each chapter.


The North Side section visits homes in neighborhoods such as the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Hawthorne Place, the Hutchinson Street Historic Landmark District, Edgewater, Old Irving Park and Rogers Park.

The four-story, 15,000-square-foot Richardson Romanesque home at 1250 N. Lake Shore Drive has 23 rooms -- and 10 fireplaces.

A four-story gem at 1530 N. Lake Shore Drive -- built to resemble a Florentine villa -- is now the headquarters of the Polish Consulate.

Theatergoers are familiar with the name Goodman. William Owen Goodman made a fortune in the lumber business -- and he was the donor of the popular downtown theater that bears his name. In 1913, Howard Van Doren Shaw designed Goodman's mansion at 1355 N. Astor.

Nearby, the 1892 Charnley House at 1365 Astor, is now the headquarters for the Society of Architectural Historians. "It was designed chiefly by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a draftsman and designer in Louis Sullivan's office," Graf said.

A mansion at 2466 N. Lakeview was constructed in 1894 for a brewer, but later it was occupied by William Wrigley (of the chewing gum fortune). The mansion and the rear coach house contain 20,000 square feet of space.

The Hutchinson Street Landmark District is a two-block stretch of architecturally significant homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several were designed by George Washington Maher, a prominent Prairie School architect. The residence at 817 W. Hutchinson was built in 1913 for a jewelry company executive.

In Wicker Park, a gingerbread mansion at 2153 W. Pierce was built for a successful German immigrant who wanted a home to remind him of his native country. "This house looks much the same today as when the photograph was taken in 1893," Graf said.

A 1909 mansion at 5940 N. Sheridan Road is surrounded by high-rises.


This chapter visits homes in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, the Calumet/Giles Prairie Landmark District, Groveland Park, Millionaires Row, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Beverly and the Jackson Park Highlands Landmark District.

The Wheeler-Kohn mansion at 2018 S. Calumet survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The restored home is now a bed-and-breakfast.

A Queen Anne at 4500 S. Michigan, originally built for heirs to meat-packing companies, served as a funeral home for a while. Now, it's operated by the Inner-City Youth Foundation.

A Flemish-style mansion at 442 E. Oakwood was built for a wagon manufacturer.

Civil rights leader Ida Wells once resided at 3624 S. King Drive.

The mansion at 4742 S. King Drive was the home of Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the son of ex-slaves who established the Chicago Defender newspaper.

Moses Born made a fortune in the clothing business, and his residence -- with nine fireplaces -- was built at 4801 S. Drexel in 1901.

A French Renaissance limestone chateau at 4938 S. Drexel was turned into 34 condominiums.

The Richardson Romanesque mansion at 4851 S. Drexel was built for Martin Antoine Ryerson Jr. The Ryerson Library at the Art Institute of Chicago is named in his honor.

A three-story brick mansion at 5026 S. Greenwood has 15 fireplaces. Playwright Kenneth Sawyer Goodman grew up in the home before his parents moved to Astor Street.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali once resided in an 8,000-square-foot Tudor at 4944 S. Woodlawn.

Wright's Robie House at 5757 S. Woodlawn is a museum open for touring.

A 33-room mansion at 726 W. Garfield was designed in 1901 by Zachary Taylor Davis -- who also designed Wrigley Field and old Comiskey Park.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once owned the Queen Anne at 9332 S. Damen in the Beverly neighborhood.

A limestone mansion at 10244 S. Longwood was designed to resemble an Irish castle. The home is currently the Beverly Unitarian Church.

A Queen Anne at 10910 S. Prospect features fixtures salvaged from old Chicago mansions.


The 1500 blocks of Jackson and Adams and the 200 block of South Ashland make up the Jackson Boulevard Historic Landmark District.

The Queen Anne at 315 S. Ashland was built in 1885 for philanthropist and machinery manufacturer William James Chalmers and his wife, Joan Pinkerton (the daughter of detective agency owner Allen Pinkerton).

An Italianate at 718 S. Loomis was built for baker and biscuit maker David Francis Bremner, a captain for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Architect Frederick R. Schock built a Queen Anne for himself at 5804 W. Midway Park. Schock lived there for almost 50 years.

This chapter also covers the distinguished mansions in Logan Square on the Near Northwest Side. For example, John Rath, who made a fortune in the barrel-making business, hired Maher in 1907. The result was a classic example of Maher's Prairie School design at 2701 W. Logan Blvd.

"Logan Boulevard has been well-preserved," Graf said. "It looks today much like it did 100 years ago."

A medieval tower is an eye-catching element of the William Nowaczewski House at 2410 N. Kedzie.


This chapter is a sad one. "One cannot help but be amazed and astonished that so many architectural jewels have slipped away into the past -- never to be recovered," Graf said.

Railroad car baron George Pullman's mansion used to be at 1729 S. Prairie. A rare photo shows the reception hall -- with ornately carved mahogany pillars.

Marshall Field -- the founder of the department store -- resided in a red-brick Second Empire mansion at 1905 S. Prairie. "It was completed in 1876 at a cost of $2 million -- an enormous sum at the time," Graf said.

Chicago's Mansions ($19.99, Arcadia Publishing).

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