One of Riverside’s First Grand Houses Is For Sale at $1,549,900

The 1870 Jennison Residence has a pool, library, and a big Oprah connection.

On the market: Riverside's landmark Jennison Residence.   Photo: Ian Spula

One of the early grand houses to populate Frederick Law Olmsted’s revolutionary 1869 layout for the western suburb of Riverside—and the former home of Alice McGee, a past producer on the Oprah Winfrey Show—has listed for sale at $1,549,900.

The 4,600-square-foot home is located at Bartram and Michaux Roads, with Frank Lloyd Wright’s F.F. Tomek House visible down the block. It pays to cross the threshold: From the sidewalk, only the roof’s sharp crest is visible above the high hedges. Rest assured there’s a ton of house on this corner lot, especially for 1870.

Known as the Jennison Residence and designed by John C. Cochrane, architect of the Iowa State Capitol, the six-bedroom abode is purportedly the first brick house in Riverside. The enormous second-floor terraces are circa 1900 add-ons and dominate the façade, but they certainly contribute to enjoyment of plush grounds that include large front and side yards and an in-ground pool. While the pool doesn’t put its best face forward in mid-March, a two-floor pool house makes for a year-round hedonistic retreat featuring a home theater/lounge, a wood-paneled and tropical-hued bar, and a game room with billiards and foosball. The best part? The pool house adjoins the main house via enclosed walkway.

The main foyer entrance (I got the impression the back entry off the drive gets all the action) is the only proper initiation to this home’s grandeur. Ceilings hit 12-13 feet throughout the main floor, with original 10-foot high, extra wide pocket doors. A central staircase snakes up from the foyer, with wall insets displaying oversized earthenware. Each common room is dressed in a different paint, paneling, and molding and chandelier-fireplace pairing (a couple of the bedrooms have fireplaces too). Three of the these spaces really pop: the library with built-in shelving, ladder, lavish furniture, and a handsome wooden mantel fireplace; the large sun room flanked with tall windows; and the living room with baby grand piano and otherworldly carved marble fireplace—imported from Italy and weighing one ton, according to broker Sohail Salahuddin of @properties.

Salahuddin made an even bigger claim, though very believable: that Oprah’s Book Club got its start in the library. McGee, who sold to current owner Margarete Evanoff in 2003, is credited with dreaming up the club. She and Winfrey were both big readers and wanted to “talk to authors after the books just to ask them questions,” as Winfrey recalled to NPR. “And then Alice said, ‘Well maybe more than two of us would be interested.’”

The mansion vibe dissipates on the second floor, though high ceilings and a similar hallway layout lend some continuity. There are five bedrooms and two bathrooms on this level, and one set could easily serve as master suite with private access to the largest terrace. The second terrace has a door off the hallway, behind stairs to the third floor. The intended master bedroom has the whole top level to itself, with skylights to counter any cramps that come with lower ceilings. The master bathroom has one as well, and also sports a Jacuzzi tub.

Most old houses, no matter how enchanting, have a problem area or two for today’s buyer. The kitchen is likely to be it at today’s property, which, although fitted with quality appliances and a humungous stone fireplace, has an ancient sink sprawling through the middle of the space and its dishwasher in the pantry. No biggie, just a minor aggravation.

Price Points: Evanoff purchased the house in 2003 for $1,350,000, and now has it posted at $1,549,900. The listing went live this Sunday and there were at least three scheduled showings on day one. Also consult Salahuddin’s on-camera walk-through, posted to YouTube during the initial summer ’13 listing.


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