Sometimes a building’s façade tells you absolutely nothing about what’s inside. So it is with a fragment of the Studebaker automotive empire on South Michigan Avenue, an inauspicious limestone low-rise that’s now a three-piece residential loft conversion. Developed as 15 large units (a couple spaces have since been combined) in 1997, these are some of the South Loop’s most singular residences—four of them prospering from barrel-vaulted ceilings cresting to 16 feet. One unit, with textbook New York loft décor—a 16 x 16 industrial skylight (frosted and leak-proof), oversized modern furniture and light fixtures, and mounted shelving—recently hit the market for less than its 2007 sales price.
The 1,850 square foot second floor unit doesn’t dazzle with floating stairs or precarious balconies. It’s just a box with drywall and big windows to the street. The kitchen features twin lengths of soapstone counter with steel drawers; it’s open to the dining area with its enormous square table tailored to the space by the interior architect, which is in turn open to the living area and master bedroom around the bend. The table cannot be moved without chopping it up, so it will become the next owner’s.
The little division that does exist in the space can be reconfigured or removed with ease, but the layout makes good sense: the partitioning folds in around the master suite while creating the second bedroom, two closets, and both bathrooms. And there’s enough clearance overhead for storage (as the sellers use it) or for another habitable space—all you’d have to do is rig up a retractable ladder. The major mechanicals are also mounted on the loft, boosting efficiency in heating and cooling.
Further skyward, buyers may be interested in the existing roof rights. With considerable complexity, a sizable deck could be hoisted atop the barrel roof and a staircase carved out of overhead clearance in the common stairwell. The association is pretty lenient about stuff like this, say sellers Jason Heckler and Renee Brown.
We can only hope that high quality restorative investment spreads throughout Motor Row, a cluster of South Loop blocks with similar character. Standing between the Studebaker Lofts’ cohesive residential stretch of Michigan Avenue and those promising blocks beyond Cermak Road are the future sites of the DePaul arena and events center and another two massive hotels (here and here). These heavy-handed developments go one of two ways: they either catalyze tangential uses and economic activity in surrounding areas or block rejuvenation—it’s a question of design and relevance.
Price Points: Heckler and Brown are relocating to Minneapolis for work and the abrupt change has encouraged a rational approach to South Loop real estate. The neighborhood has rebounded a lot in two years, but not to 2006-7 bubble proportions. The $489,000 asking price is already $6,000 shy of the price paid seven years ago and includes a garage parking space, which previously it did not. And then you have to consider the improved environment.
“When we started shopping around here in 2006 the streetscape was cluttered with parking meters and old mercury-vapor street lamps, but few trees,” says Heckler. “Since we moved in they’ve widened the sidewalks, put in a lot of trees, and even some new park space.” A large dog park is being built a couple blocks away, and the ever-popular Chicago Women’s Park is also very close. A Mariano’s grocery also opened last year at Clark and 16th Streets.