Price: $1.8 million
A Victorian/Tudor hybrid from stylistically versatile architect Joseph L. Silsbee is for sale in Riverside. The 1895 home has somewhere around 5,000 square feet, six bedrooms, and the largest lot in town at just over one acre. The local landmark was built for John F. Palmer (no relation to Potter Palmer) at the edge of Longcommon Park, a focal point of Frederick Law Olmsted’s curvilinear village.
The story goes that Palmer, inventor of the pneumatic cord tire for the car and bicycle, was the first resident of Riverside to own a car. His mansion also has the village’s first private garage and one hell of a porte cochere, with an underbelly of wood that’s picked up again by the sunroom ceiling and billiards room.
The reception area, with its Gothic church lanterns and almost total coverage in walnut, is a somber introduction to the house, and it almost turned away Danny and Caitie Jisa. “When we first looked at the house it didn’t really speak to us,” Caitie says. “It just felt dark. But we came back a year later and realized things could be done to brighten it up and make it comfortable for a young family.” The couple made the purchase in 2008, their third house in Riverside. And now the itch is back.
The walnut paneling in the reception room and living room was added in the 1930s, as was a built-in organ and an imported Italian limestone fireplace. Many architectural details, though, date to Silsbee’s design—three of the four fireplaces, sconces, leaded glass windows, a grand staircase, and the half-timbered and shingled façade. Four of the five porches, including the covered sunroom, are original and look back on the house from every possible angle.
Vintage isn’t always desirable. “The realtor who showed us the place said the kitchen was featured in House Beautiful,” Caitie recalls. “It was. In 1961. There’s not a lot of charm in vintage kitchens.” So the Jisas stripped it out and built new, with a granite island, butler’s pantry, and a breakfast nook. To further modernize, they added central air to the second and third floors (the attic has a window unit) and a bunch of new light fixtures. But the biggest undertaking was the total re-shingling of the house and reconstruction of a side porch.
It is not confirmed, but Frank Lloyd Wright is thought to have aided in the design of the massive family room (previously the billiards room) with vaulted ceiling and an Arts & Crafts hearth conjuring a likeness to the architects’ office in Wright’s own Oak Park home. The room was added in 1912. He definitely apprenticed on Silsbee’s commission 18 years earlier and worked steadily in Riverside in the interim.
One quirky keepsake that stays with the sale is practically an archaeological find: Down in the basement wine cellar, a couple dozen bottles from the early 20th Century were left behind in a 1983 auction of the then-second largest private wine collection in Illinois. A number of tags marking regions and vintages going back into the 1800s are also still kicking around.
Price Points: Among active Riverside listings, only Wright’s Coonley Estate is priced higher, at $2.1 million. A 1990s mansion takes the third slot. Compositionally, the home has a close relative in a William LeBaron Jenney-designed Eastlake Victorian across town. The dramatic seven-bed has a similar park-like setting and intense interior woodwork, though it has struggled to sell at $1.2 million.
Other stately homes have had bruising rides on the market. The Jennison House, a red brick force on Bartram Road and one of Riverside’s oldest, has been on and off the market for a few years with a price slide from $1.55 to $1.25 million. I suspect the 2015 market will be kinder to Riverside’s grandest estate, but with nothing sold over $1 million in town in at least three years it’s hard to speak with conviction.