A historic mansion shines with Old World elegance and modern amenities in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.
By Dresden Scott
Enter the right home, and an immediate sense of knowing washes over you. “I’ll take it,” is all you can think of to say, as you drift from room to room, formulating a complete vision for your family’s life in minutes. You know exactly where you will hang your art. You know exactly where you will place your sofa. You know exactly where the kids will play. For a Chicago-based commodities trader and his late decorator wife, this sums up their first encounter with a Richardsonian Romanesque-style mansion in Chicago’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood 26 years ago.
“She knew right away,” recalls her husband. “She knew where all of our big art would fit. She had all of the furniture placed within the house, and that made her happy. I wanted to look at other homes for a little longer. She didn’t even want to look anymore. She wanted this house, and that was that.”
Designed in the 1880s by Swedish-born architect L. Gustav Hallberg Sr. for merchant Benjamin Felix, the building had been converted to apartments during the 1920s, with the Victorian-era interior updated to the Georgian revival style, possibly with the involvement of David Adler. Set on a rare 35-foot-wide lot, the property — affectionately known as the “Pi Mansion” because of the pi symbol on front façade — is impressive in stature, offering approximately 9,750 square feet of living space. The wife — who worked for acclaimed firm Dudley Ross Interiors — fully embraced the challenge of executing an ambitious renovation in 2000. Her first order of business was to convert the property back to a single-family dwelling with Paul Bodine Architects. She then set about restoring the six-bedroom home to its original grandeur, painstakingly hand-selecting every detail in millwork, tile, fabrics, paint and glaze.
“The result is a harmonious blend of Old World craftsmanship with modern improvements and amenities — all in one of Chicago’s most prestigious neighborhoods,” says listing agent Jennifer Ames of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago.
The extra-wide, extra-deep interior offers beautifully proportioned rooms with high ceilings and abundant natural light. Each of the three above-grade levels offers more than 2,600 square feet of living space. The lower level includes a one-bedroom apartment ideal for a live-in home manager, housekeeper or nanny, and bonus space for storage, crafts, exercise, wine storage, etc. Amenities encompass a terrace off the main living level, additional decks and terraces, and a one-car garage “that could be expanded,” says Ames. Adds the husband, who has hosted many charity events and school fundraisers over the years: “It’s a wonderful family house, and an incredible house for entertaining.”
The art-loving couple’s complete renovation of their historic mansion also included a new custom curved staircase with skylight above, magnificent millwork including six-piece base trim, new doors and hardware, 10 fireplaces and a walnut-paneled passenger elevator with brass gate. The main level ushers guests inside with a handsome foyer touched with walnut paneling and a coffered ceiling, stone flooring and a wood-burning fireplace. The living room has ceilings nearly 11 feet high with plaster moldings, oversized front windows, a herringbone hardwood floor and a gas log fireplace with a marble mantel. The library and office on this level offer additional room for entertaining and quiet relaxation. The office includes a closet that could be converted into a wet bar, as well as an en suite bath with upholstered walls. A conservatory/greenhouse rests at the top level, providing a lush oasis in the heart of the city.
Further inspiration for the couple came from the property’s ideal position in the Gold Coast. The desirable stretch of State Street is distinguished by its mature trees, planted parkways, and stock of vintage and upscale homes. Serendipitously, the wife had grown up in an apartment nearby and attended the Latin School of Chicago, just a few blocks away on Dearborn. “She had always wanted a house in the city. It’s unusual to have a house of this size in the city,” says the husband. Beyond the Latin School, the home is also near excellent public schools, including the highly rated Ogden Elementary and Lincoln Park High schools. A wealth of fabulous neighborhood and city amenities, from upscale dining and nightlife on both Wells and Rush to live music, and park and lakefront recreation are all just blocks away. It is only a short drive to the North & Clybourn Shopping Corridor, and several grocers and the Division Street Farmers’ Market are conveniently close. Transportation options are convenient, with nearby buses to Michigan Avenue and the Loop, and it is walking distance to the Clark/Division Red Line subway station. Access to Lake Shore Drive is also easy.
Finding the right neighborhood and the right home at the right time — these are the qualities that inspire the confidence of “I’ll take it” in a buyer. And that is exactly what you will find in this deeply cared-for mansion.
Represented by: Jennifer Ames, Ames Group Chicago
Coldwell Banker Lincoln Park Clybourn