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Buy a Duplex in the Marshall Field, Jr. Mansion For $1.4 Million

The roughly 3,200 square foot duplex listed in mid-October; act fast and you might get in before the New Year.

The 30,000 square foot former Marshall Field, Jr. Mansion, circa 1884, is now six fabulous condo units.   Photo: Ian Spula

Price: $1,444,000

The Marshall Field, Jr. Mansion at 1919 South Prairie Avenue, now condos, is marvel of preservation and sensitive reuse. There has been only one resale in the building since 2008’s first move-ins, but a newly listed duplex-down hopes to be the second. The three-bedroom unit with two-and-a-half baths claims a healthy helping of the mansion’s main and lower levels and is quite a get on this most scenic and tranquil of urban cul-de-sacs.

Solon Spencer Beman, architect of the historic Town of Pullman and of many society homes, designed the original house in 1884, and Marshall Field, Sr., who lived at 1905 South Prairie—a lost treasure of the District—bought it for his newlywed son a few years later. Daniel Burnham was brought in to dramatically expand the home to 30,000 square feet. The building’s six condos don’t add up to that because some space was forfeited to common hallways and parking slots.

The new listing is at the middle of the pack at 3,237 square feet, but the comparisons stop there. Each unit is cut differently—there are simplexes, duplex-ups, and duplex-downs—and the ratio of salvage to rebuild varies from unit to unit. Here, the oak flooring is old, the fireplaces are old (layered with new treatments), and the parlor was Field’s parlor.

“My sellers preferred a duplex-down for the extra calm of having bedrooms below grade,” says agent Mike Checuga of RE/MAX. And, it should be noted, the lower level is only a little sunken and doesn’t sacrifice any headspace. Now with children, the sellers are headed for a single-family with a private yard.

The property’s great charm derives from its grand room sizes, 12’ ceilings, and expert furnishings. These include a number of custom wooden file cabinets in exaggerated hourglass shapes, a mini grand piano, library shelving in the kitchen/family room, and two exquisite chandeliers—one from the ancient Venetian glassworks island of Murano; the other from Uptown. These are negotiable with the sale.

One of the redevelopment’s odder offerings is the preservation of the mansion’s monumental red stone fireplace smushed into a utilitarian rear hallway. There’s no seating or activity to accompany—it’s basically just there for photo ops.

Speaking of common amenities, the primary shared resource is an L-shaped courtyard chock full of topiary and park benches. It’s a lovely area on a tranquil street but hardly anyone uses it, says Checuga. That’s no shocker; how many people use the roof decks of large apartment towers on a given day in the summer, even those with pools?

Price Points: The sellers purchased their home out of the construction phase in May 2008 for $1,183,500. The current ask of $1,444,000 is carefully hedged to get a decent return for the sellers while avoiding the trap of a high price. Unit 3 provides ample warning: it is priced at $1.85 million after several long stands on the market going back to March 2011. That seller was initially seeking $2.2 million, with an edge over today’s home in its walk-out kitchen balcony with stone balustrade, cathedral ceilings at the bedroom level, and extra 400 square feet. Still, these are marginal advantages for the price differential.

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