List Price: $879,000
Sale Price: $904,000
The Property: Formerly filled with one of Chicago’s finest collections of 20th-century art, this stone-and-stucco house in Oak Park had deteriorated so much in recent years that the real-estate agent who sold it at foreclosure on August 16 describes it as “destroyed inside.”
The Tudor Revival exterior is largely intact, from the terra cotta chimney pots above a rough-hewn stone chimney to the dots, columns, and flowers tattooed into the stucco (see detail photo at right). The house was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the Chicago architecture firm behind such iconic structures as the Wrigley Building, the Merchandise Mart, and the Field Museum. Standing on a street of landmark homes since 1927, it’s known as the Norman S. Smith house. But for a few decades before their deaths in the 1990s, it was the home of Joseph and Jory Shapiro; legendary art collectors, they were among the founders of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as major donors to the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions.
I interviewed Joe Shapiro in the house in 1991, when reporting my first article for Chicago magazine. It was a memorable experience, seeing the walls of a traditional-feeling home hung with surrealist and other edgy modern art.
Jory Shapiro died in 1993; her husband followed three years later. Public records suggest that the house changed hands four or five times in the subsequent years, although it’s not entirely clear, and the records never indicate an outright sale of the house. In 2005, a man who appears to have owned the house took out a $1.5 million mortgage; in November 2010, the lender, Fifth Third Mortgage, began foreclosure proceedings on that loan. In November 2011, a court-ordered transfer gave the deed to a corporate owner.
By the time the holder of the title enlisted Area Wide Realty’s Mike Olszewski to sell the house, the 6,300-square-foot interior was “a mess,” Olszewski says. The kitchen and bathrooms were decades old, some leaded glass windows were damaged, and there was extensive water damage and mold throughout the house. On the other hand, Olszewski says, some built-in mahogany bookcases and paneling “and a lot of gorgeous woodwork and wood floors were still fine. I could picture a lot of very skilled old-time craftsmen helping create this gorgeous home.”
Olszewski’s listing sheet, issued in late May, noted that the home had asbestos building materials that would need to be removed by the next owner. Within a few weeks, there were multiple offers on the house. The winning bid was 2.7 percent more than the last asking price. Olszewski says that the buyers, who are not yet identified in public records, will rehab and live in the house.
Price Points: In September 2011, the home went up for auction at $1.8 million, but no sale resulted. Area Wide started in May with an asking price of $949,000, then dropped it to $879,000. Olszewski says that his company, when considering whether to do the rehab before selling, estimates that bringing the house up to an appropriate quality for its stature will cost a minimum of $700,000. That means a buyer would invest at least $1.6 million in the property, which is at the high end of what Olszewski forecasts it will be worth when fully restored. “Our target buyer was an end-user who would like living in it for a long time,” he says, explaining that builders and remodelers would likely not have been interested because of the prospect of little or no profit.