List Price: $340,000
Sales Price: $340,000
An archetypal Italianate manor, built by railroad wealth in the young town of Austin, has sold for just the fourth time in its 144 years. Needless to say, this vintage is about as old as it gets in this dense peripheral neighborhood, absorbed by Chicago in 1899 and hurriedly developed. Known as the Charles Hitchcock House in preservation circles, the Chicago landmark is the second oldest surviving home in Austin and has coasted through the generations with grace and durability. It was in the Hitchcock family for almost 100 years, the next two families for a combined 30, and most recently with John Alvarez and wife Kimberly Anderson for 17. That’s the secret to its peak conditioning.
The couple poured buckets of sweat and resources into the property. Starting with the porch and moving through the 12-foot-tall living spaces, they repaired and refinished the hardwoods, hired carpenters to match bits of recovered ornament and crown molding with the right materials for replication, and took a sad patch of grass and made it a botanical oasis with shade trees, flowers, koi ponds, pergolas, and patios. Alvarez taught himself to garden and landscape after getting quoted tens of thousands for pond construction alone.
Every door in this place is five times heavier than it needs to be. The windows are huge for their era and in pristine condition, and thick pine pocket doors still have their glide. On the second and third floors, the high ceilings continue through five bedrooms and three full bathrooms, one of which is painted with colorful skeletons doing everyday activities. “My wife became obsessed with Mexican culture and Day of the Dead,” says Alvarez, “so we hired an artist to do a mural.” Otherwise the décor—what hasn’t been boxed up—leans antique. Alvarez matched an 1870 grandfather clock that used to belong to the Rock Island Railroad with the dining room, and a bunch of furnishings were fished out of art fairs and auctions, including a set of living room chairs once belonging to developer Sam Zell.
The third floor was built out by Alvarez as a full bedroom level with entertainment room and sneaky roof access up and improvised ladder and through a trap door. The views are great up there and the roof can take a deck, or, more in keeping with the Italianate style, a widow’s walk.
The AIA Guide to Chicago calls the house “strongly vertical.” It’s true; whether influenced by the tall front porch, vertical ornament, and slender windows or by the steep grand staircase and high ceilings, the house appears sharply erect. It’s quite long and sprawling, too—a realization you get only by circling through the garden.
Alvarez is most proud of the garden. Stroll it and you’ll understand why. But there should also be enormous pride just in keeping this creaky ship afloat—all 4,500 square feet of it. There’s a funny and not uncommon discrepancy in the county’s recorded square footage and that of the appraiser: 1,900 versus roughly 4,500. “The appraiser lives in Oak Park and said this is the nicest house he’s ever done,” boasts listing agent Allison McGowan of D’Aprile Properties, also a longtime Austin resident.
“The myth in the community is that we were annexed from Oak Park,” continues McGowan. “For some reason, people keep telling that story. The homes are similar and I think some people maybe like to believe Oak Park wants us.”
You certainly can get a lot of house in Austin, even more than in Jefferson Park, where the sellers are headed to be closer to Alvarez’s grown children. The house sold at ask and before list. McGowan was lucky to know an eager buyer right off the bat. Blake Sercye is moving from Midway Park, a beautiful Austin boulevard a couple blocks south. “I had been looking at houses for two or three years,” he says, “and nothing was this nice or in as good a shape.”