Photography: Dennis Rodkin
List Price: $2.195 million
Sale Price: $2.1 million
The Property: You can see right away from my photo that this Lake Forest house presents an almost blank face to the street. That’s because the excitement is all out back: a steep-sided, wooded ravine that leads to Lake Michigan, less than a quarter-mile away. The listing photos show that the house embraces that view, with walls of windows on the ravine side.
“It’s almost like a treehouse sitting on the edge of the ravine so you’re surrounded by green in the summer and snow in the winter,” says Jean Anderson, who represented the home in its recent sale, which closed March 15.
And while it’s very clearly a modern house—built in 1975—the home’s way of relating to its natural setting is a token of a family history that, until today, hasn’t been known publicly. I’ve learned that the architect of this house, Robert Roloson, Jr., was a direct descendant of an early patron of Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert W. Roloson.
In 1894, Wright built a set of townhouses in the 3200 South block of Calumet Avenue as investment property for Roloson, who was a member of the Board of Trade. In the mid-20th century, when the South Side crumbled because of white flight and disinvestment, the townhouses were forgotten and nearly demolished, but ultimately they were preserved along with many other great 19th-century homes in the area that’s now known as The Gap.
According to Robert M. Roloson—great-great grandson of the Wright patron and son of the architect of the Lake Forest house (but who, to make things even more confusing, is also an architect in Lake Forest)—the Rolosons later decamped from the South Side for Winnetka. When his father was 11 years old, the family home there burned down “and [my father] lost his mother, father, sister and brother.” He moved in with cousins in Lake Forest.
Family memory like the connection to the early Wright commission was dimmed, too, understandably. “We heard about them in the 1960s or 1970s and my dad went and checked them out, but that’s it,” Robert W. Roloson says. Even so, a family line that once tapped the talent of one of America’s pre-eminent architects went on to produce two generations of architects.
As an adult, the orphaned Robert Roloson, Jr. acquired some land that had been part of Walden, one of the McCormick family estates on the bluffs in southeast Lake Forest. He built a series of modernist homes there, including today’s subject property and one where Robert M. Roloson grew up and where his mother still lives. His father, the architect of the house, now lives out West, in a home he designed, according to Robert W. Roloson.
In 2002, Robert and Randi Elliott paid $1.875 million for the home, according to the Lake County Recorder of Deeds, becoming its second owners. They updated and renovated the 3,500-square-foot home extensively. With the purchase and renovations, “they had $5.2 million in it,” Anderson told me.
Price Points: The Elliotts, whom I could not reach, first put the house on the market in February 2008, asking $4.9 million. Even that would have had them taking a loss of six percent. Over the course of the next five years, the house took several price cuts and changed agents. Anderson took over the listing in January 2011. After taking it off the market last fall, the sellers put it back on in January, asking $2.195 million. The final sale price is 40% of what Anderson says they had invested in the property.
The buyers are not yet identified in public records. It sounds like they got quite a deal. “They did, they did,” Anderson said.
12 months ago