An unusual, quasi-presidential property on the South Side sold for $400,000 last week.
The “blue White House” is a 7,900-square-foot, ivory-pillared manse in Chatham that closely resembles its big sister on Pennsylvania Avenue—save for a vivid robin’s-egg blue paint job.
“I wasn’t crazy about the blue brick,” says Karen Tolbert, who on January 22 closed the sale with her fiancé, Dana Hillard. “But when I walked in, I just fell in love with it.”
Tolbert says that at a gathering that night to celebrate the couple’s purchase, Hillard’s friends begged her not to alter the 50-year-old home’s exterior. Hillard had grown up just blocks away. Tolbert couldn’t say no. “It’s a staple in the community, so [painting is] something I won’t be doing,” she says.
Indeed, ever since word of the sale spread, Chatham neighbors have been reminiscing on Facebook. “When I was a little girl, that was my dream house,” one wrote. “We used to ring the doorbell and run,” remembered another.
As Chicago reported in 2011, the house was built in 1966 as an homage to the original White House in Washington, D.C., but by 2003 deterioration had plagued the property, leaving a dated kitchen, decrepit ceilings, and crumbling walls for the next owner to tackle.
Shaunda Brown, a Chatham resident who told Chicago she had admired the house as a child, purchased it that year and embarked on a $400,000 gut rehab, revamping the interior with granite countertops and hardwood floors, converting an old smoking room into a media room, and transforming a former ballroom into a spacious master bedroom.
Brown tried to sell the property in 2010 for $1 million. No one bit.
Foreclosure proceedings began in 2014, and by October 2015 the house was back on the market, its previous price slashed in half, to $425,000.
Tolbert says she and Hillard plan to make only minor cosmetic updates, and they hope to pursue a local historical landmark listing. The tough part? Not much is known about its original owners other than their last name, Smith, and that they had imported Italian brick for the house’s blue façade.
“In the coming weeks, I plan to go down to City Hall and get its history,” Tolbert says. “I’m ecstatic about the possibilities.”