Gertrude Lempp Kerbis’s Greenhouse Condos

List Price: $375,000
The Property: While working for two top Chicago architectural firms in the 1950s and ’60s, Gertrude Lempp Kerbis made contributions to design elements at O’Hare International Airport and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Today’s tour is at a building that was a benchmark project for her, one that she has said was among the first places where she worked on her own…


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List Price: $375,000
The Property: While working for two top Chicago architectural firms in the 1950s and ’60s, Gertrude Lempp Kerbis made contributions to design elements at O’Hare International Airport and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Today’s tour is at a building that was a benchmark project for her, one that she has said was among the first places where she worked on her own.

Kerbis both designed and developed the residential building for a site on Clark Street and called it the Greenhouses. That may seem like a puzzling name for a place that presents a brick and black-glass façade, but as you will see in the video, the surprise is inside, where Kerbis crafted an unusual urban solution for bringing in daylight.

The entrance to this condo is tucked into the heart of the building, but hanging above its front hall is a skylight. That’s just one of the apertures Kerbis created. The other two are her “greenhouses”: two-story glass boxes. In this condo, one greenhouse is shared with the neighboring unit and is only a source of light, but the other one, at the front of the condo, is private and provides both light and semi-outdoor space.

The two-story condo has its living room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, and a bathroom on one level, and three bedrooms and two baths on the next level. Every room except the laundry and bathrooms has a view into one of the greenhouses. The kitchen’s view is smallest of all, but it could be enlarged. The kitchen and baths all need updating—the condo is being sold by the estate of the late Rodney Blackman who had lived there from the time the Greenhouses was first built, in 1975—and in the process, it might be possible to open up the large wall between the kitchen and living room. That would enhance the room’s view and natural light.

Upstairs, one bedroom looks into the shared atrium, and the other two into the private one. With their sliding doors open, they feel enlarged by the atrium. As in an office building with an atrium, it’s like having outdoor space that isn’t really outdoors. When residents want to get out under the open sky, there is a rooftop deck held in common by all 11 condos.

And by the way, though it’s called a greenhouse, it’s not likely to house only plants. The day we shot the video was very cold and gray, but even with the heat turned off in the greenhouse, I was comfortable in shirtsleeves. The floor space there will surely become part of the main-floor living space.

Whether it becomes a reading room, a relaxation retreat, or some other extension of the living space, the main greenhouse, surrounded by glass two-story walls and ceiling, is a nice place to look out on the building’s surroundings. The Lincoln Park Zoo, Francis Parker School, and shopping and dining are all nearby. And directly across the street is a piece of green space that people all over the world associate with Chicago: the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Price Points: The estate listed the condo for sale in November, at the present price. The condo comes with an outdoor parking space. Another unit in the building sold last March for $380,000. Emily Jeffries, the agent on today’s property, says there is an offer but no contract, so the condo is still being actively marketed.

Listing Agent: Emily Jeffries of Re/Max Exclusive Properties; 773-327-2114 or emilysellschicago.com.

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