Reclaiming Landmarks

When Art Frigo bought a languishing Chicago mop company in 1987, he’d had no experience with household products. Now the firm, M. B. Walton, has a bucketload of successful new goods, including a fancy broom called the Performer that Frigo shepherded onto the market. In 1989 Frigo jumped into another field where he’d never played—real estate—by buying a pair of once-gorgeous stone mansions on Lake Shore Drive and launching the careful restoration of both.

Frigo paid a combined $3.75 million for next-door neighbors 1250 North Lake Shore Drive—which had been on the market for more than two years—and 1254, on sale for 15 months. The mansions, built in 1891, are among only seven that remain from the Drive’s early life as a strand of imposing lakefront homes. When Frigo bought them, the two massive granite structures had been in decline for decades. The south building, 1250, was uninhabitable on three of its five sprawling floors, and 1254 had been butchered into 15 meager apartments.

Two years and five million dollars in renovation costs later, Frigo has joined the houses into one integral structure containing four lavish residences that are now for sale. Reclaiming the tandem messes, both of them designated city landmarks, was a huge job for a first-timer, but Frigo, 50, isn’t one to let his inexperience slow him down. Years before his mop adventure, Frigo was driven to launch an independent stock-car racing circuit simply because he’d gotten excited watching one of his employees in a race. (He later sold the venture.) In 1989 Frigo saw real estate the way he’d seen stock-car racing in 1975 and mops in 1987: It looked like

Not surprisingly, the neighbors are paying close attention to Frigo’s progress on his mansions. “Those houses just weren’t up to the standards of the neighborhood any more,” says Fred Krehbiel, owner and part-time resident of 1260 North Lake Shore Drive. Krehbiel, the chief executive officer of a manufacturing company in Lisle, bought the corner house that spans Goethe Street between Lake Shore Drive and Stone Street in 1987 when it, too, was a mess. Having renovated his own home, he now watches Frigo’s effort with a trained eye. “We saw how they worked on the roofs,” he says, “and how they handled the stone walls, and we could see this was an owner who cares about the historical character of the buildings. They have been very careful all the way.”

Either of Frigo’s two houses would be too big for most families these days; 1250 has roughly 10,700 square feet of space on its five levels, and 1254 encloses almost 9,000 square feet. (The original 1254 structure is four stories high, but Frigo recently got city permission to add a small rooftop room that must be tucked far enough back to avoid compromising the structure’s lake-side face.) The simple solution would have been to slice each of the two structures vertically, creating two multistory units in each building.

“You lose a lot that way, especially these beautiful staircases,” Frigo says on his way up 1250’s monumental mahogany stairs in the cavernous front gallery. For a vertical split, each mansion’s breathtaking staircase would have had to be shared by both residences in the building or taken out to save space. Frigo’s horizontal plan gives the stair in each house to the building’s three-story main unit. The upper unit—in each building, the top two floors—will be reached by means of a new elevator in an addition built behind and between the mansions.

The split creates four luxurious residences. [he largest unit, on the lower three floors of 1250, is 6,700 square feet and is priced at $3.3 million. The duplex upstairs is 4,000 square feet; it is listed at $1.85 million. In 1254, the 6,000-square-foot triplex is $2.55 million. The smallest unit, 1254’s original top floor and the rooftop addition, is a relatively modest 2,800 square feet priced at $1.45 million.

The horizontal division of the buildings retains the grandeur of the mansions’ expansive views. The interior of 1250 is 38 feet across, and on the two main floors virtually Ehe entire width opens to views across Lake Shore Drive and Oak Street Beach to the watar. Next door, 1254 spans 36 feet inside. There, too, windows over the Drive give a full-frame picture of the city’s emerald asset.

From upper-story windows, the lake seems to spread just outside the front doors, even though what’s really right out front is clogged, noisy Lake Shore Drive. In 1891, when realtor Carl Heisen built 1250 and industrialist Mason Starring built 1254, the lake lay just beyond what would seem now a quiet avenue. Thanks to the original 18-inch-thick stone walls and the new curved, double-insulated windows, the houses still offer quiet retreat from the city’s racket.

Frigo’s approach to the renovation has been to try to combine both historical and inodern elements. In the main unit of each building, the first floor will accurately replicate the rich public spaces of the original house, from the general floor plan down to the tile mosaics, ceiling medallions, and wainscoting. The other two floors will be customized for the buyers (within the set purchase price). There are, then, two zones in each of the triplexes: one restored and historic, the other privately designed and brand new. The upstairs units will be entirely customized.

The key to Frigo’s horizontal plan, and to the success of the building, is another blend of historic and modern: the elevator “core” tucked between the rear parts of the mansion. Clad in rough gray granite that was plucked from the sides of 1250, the 2,000-square-foot addition is hardly noticeable from the street but makes private access to the upstairs units possible without sacrificing those magnificent staircases.

“I’ve worked with lots of products—mops, industrial diamonds, tools,” Frigo says while surveying the Gold Coast’s tony town houses from the roof of 1254. “Products stay around for a while and then go away. It’s nice to look at these buildings and know they’ve lasted a century and will stay around even longer now that we’ve brought them back. They’re the only thing I’m doing that will withstand the test of time—other than my broom!”


RECENT AND NOTABLE RESIDENTIAL SALES IN THE CHICAGO AREA

In Chicago A condo at 161 East Chicago Avenue for $850,000; a condo at 1040 North Lake Shore Drive for $700,000; a house in the 1900 block of North Howe Street for $520,000; a house in the 1900 block of North Maud Avenue for $525,000; a house in the 1700 block of North Spaulding Avenue for $731,000; a house in the 2700 block of North Racine Avenue for $513,000; a house in the 600 block of West Deming Place for $525,000; a house in the 6200 block of North Kenmore Street for $565,000

In Northbrook A house in the 3100 block of Whisperwoods Court for $754,176; a house in the 2500 block of Campden Lane for $663,281

In Kenilworth A house in the 200 block of Sheridan Road for $1,525,000, and another for $2,100,000; a house in the 400 block of Cumnor Road for $620,000

In Winnetka A house in the 400 block of Hawthorne Lane for $592,500; a house in the 800 block of Lamson Drive for $871,800

In Glencoe A house in the 500 block of Jackson Avenue for $573,000; a house on the 200 block of Chestnut Lane for $1,000,000

In Wilmette A condo at 1420 Sheridan Road for $650,000; a house in the 700 block of Ashland Avenue for $555,000; a house in the 1000 block of Illinois Road for $712,500

In Evanston A house in the 600 block of Judson Avenue for $503,000; a house in the 3000 block of Normandy Place for $675,000

In Glenview A house in the 800 block of Greenacres Lane for $585,000

In Park Ridge A house in the 500 block of North Ashland Avenue for $550,000

Information provided by Carol Moseley Braun, Cook County Recorder of Deeds

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