List Price: $2.95 million
The Property: On the 1300 block of Astor Street in the Gold Coast is a row of facades where you can feel the history as you walk along—and if you’re feeling history, it starts to pulsate when you get to 1310 N. Astor. This townhouse was the home of John Wellborn Root, a key architect of Chicago in the late 19th century. He lived here in the middle one of what are now three townhouses (he built four, but only three remain), and so did his sister-in-law, Harriet Monroe, who founded Poetry magazine.
But it isn’t only about who lived here, it’s about the beauty of this house, whose gorgeous brick facade hosts wonderful limestone trimmings including acorns, cherubs, and finials.
And the house is in the same fine condition inside. A spectacular plaster ceiling hangs over the living room, where on one wall is an original fireplace that Root designed, and on another, a great bay of windows looking out over the street. With the handsome framing and the leaded glass panels in the windows, you can almost hear the horse-drawn carriages clattering down the street out front.
Passing through a pair of pocket doors toward the dining room, you might also hear some of the architects and civic leaders who planned the 1893 World’s Fair for Chicago. Before he died, Root was intimately involved in the planning of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The present-day dining room was his study at that time, so people like Daniel Burnham would have worked right in this room on planning our landmark World’s Fair.
At the time, the study had more wood below waist level connecting what are now mostly freestanding pillars. It was part of a composition of wood that incorporated spindles and knobs on the adjacent staircase, some lacy woodwork above, and sensuous curves in the stair paneling. Root really went crazy with the wood, and the good news is, nobody went crazy on it later and painted it green, for example. It’s still in its original condition.
When some wood was taken away around the bottom of the pillars lining the study, the dining room that resulted at the center of the main floor provides both a sense of enclosure and openness. The dining room was originally at the back of the main floor. The kitchen was one flight down, on the ground level because there were servants to carry the food up. However, for today’s living, the kitchen needed to come up, so when that happened, the dining room slid forward, opening space for the kitchen.
The present sellers, Bruce and Kathryn Johnson, redid the kitchen to look as if it was suited to the original character of the house, with wood cabinetry that complements the antique wood in the home. There’s a casual dining area in a bay, and you can cook in the kitchen or immediately outside on a terrace. And there’s a butler’s pantry with a sink that is original to the house.
Aside from the main level, there are three other levels to the house—two above and one below. Below is the street level, with a welcoming foyer with original beams on the ceiling. The rest of the floor, which in the past was all for servants, now contains a family room and an office. On the upper two floors are four bedrooms in all. One level has two—one on either end—and both are large, each with its own bath. The one in front is the more likely the master because it has a big, multi-cabineted dressing room. On the floor above are two more bedrooms: a large one in front and a smaller one in back.
Off that rear bedroom is a rooftop terrace. It’s all shut down for winter now, but in today’s video you can see why we went out there: to show how the city has grown up all around this house. While all of those buildings towered above us, there’s no denying that in its well-kept condition, the spirit of John Wellborn Root is still very much alive in this house.
Price Points: Another of the John Wellborn Root townhouses—one door south—is on the market at $2.5 million. It was first listed in 2007 for $3.95 million; the price came down several times before the home was taken off the market in 2011. It came back on the market in August at the present price.
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