Talk to any Chicagoan who has lived in a home designed by a premier architect and you’ll hear pros and cons that run the gamut. A Wright house in Oak Park has art glass windows but no basement. A Mies condo in Streeterville offers excellent views but a cramped kitchen. For David Adler mansions, the virtue and vice are the same: expansiveness.

The late Milwaukee-born architect, who in the early 20th century designed 43 houses in the Chicago area—many of them now on the National Register of Historic Places—adored classical European style: high ceilings, huge rooms, sprawling gardens. They require a wallet that’s just as roomy. No wonder few owners of these gems have been eager to list them in recent years; who wants to sell at a market bottom? But with real estate on the North Shore recovering well from the downturn, “people who may have been waiting years to list are now doing so,” says Christine Lutz, director of residential brokerage at Kinzie Brokerage in Chicago.

At presstime, eight Adler houses were for sale in the metro area, more than at any time in the past decade. All eight are in the suburbs, but two downtown condos with Adler-designed interiors were also available. (See “Adlers on the Market, below.”)

Many of these houses have local landmark status, a potential drawback to buyers because it limits the kinds of changes they can make. (To find out if a property is landmarked locally, check with the town’s historical preservation commission; National Register status does not carry renovation restrictions.) Luckily, for Adlers “there’s a lot of latitude in the regulations for kitchens, baths, and private spaces,” says Susan Benjamin, a coauthor of North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890–1940. “You can make changes . . . so long as they aren’t the public components or signature design details, such as fireplaces or staircases.”

There are also pluses to landmark status. If a building is registered as historic either nationally or locally, it qualifies for Illinois’s Property Tax Assessment Freeze. That program freezes any new assessment on a house for eight years while rehabilitation occurs, followed by four years of reduced property taxes. The work must be to restore Adler’s original features and meet or exceed 25 percent of the property’s assessed fair cash value.

While data show that the average Adler house sells no faster than a comparable one, Lutz had a different experience. In July, an Adler in Winnetka [777 Burr Ave.] owned by one of her clients closed in just six days for $53,000 above its $1.6 million asking price. “The person who bought it grew up in an Adler,” says Lutz. “And a few of the prospective buyers had their own connections to the architect. It’s like they wanted to renew that bond.”


Adlers on the Market at Presstime

275 Sussex Ln. in Lake Forest; 51 S. Mayflower Rd. in Lake Forest; 115 Moffett Rd. in Lake Bluff
Clockwise from left: 275 Sussex Ln. in Lake Forest; 51 S. Mayflower Rd. in Lake Forest; 115 Moffett Rd. in Lake Bluff Photos: (Moffett Road) Jeff Bara; (Sussex Lane) Jorge Gera; (Mayflower Road) Joe Noel

Lake Bluff

111 Moffett Rd.
Wish you lived on a French country estate? This 1923 mansion on six acres, once part of the 7.5-acre estate of heiress Carolyn Morse Ely, gets you pretty close.
Landmarked nationally
List price: $5.5 million

109 Moffett Rd.
The former coach house of the 111 Moffett mansion now has 4,400 square feet.
Not landmarked
List price: $2.7 million

115 Moffett Rd. (Sold)
Once the gatehouse on that same property.
Not landmarked
List price: $2.2 million

Lake Forest

612 E. Woodland Rd.
A greenhouse and topiary garden come with this 8,200-square-footer on three acres.
Not landmarked, but in a landmarked district, which prevents demolition
List price: $6.0 million

111 Ridge Ln. (Contingent)
This nine-bedroom manse, once owned by magnate William E. Clow Jr., has a mirror-lined sitting room and original moldings.
Not landmarked, but in a landmarked district, which prevents demolition
List price: $3.5 million

51 S. Mayflower Rd.
Banker Albert Hamill wanted the tallest house in town, so Adler added a five-story tower to this 1927 Italianate.
Not landmarked, but in a landmarked district, which prevents demolition
List price: $2.5 million

275 Sussex Ln.
An eight-bedroom, 11,000-square-foot mansion inspired by a chateau at—bien sur—Versailles.
Not landmarked
List price: $8.9 million

1628 W. Old Mill Rd. (Contingent)
Once a stable for the nearby Lasker estate, it’s now a four-bed cottage.
Not landmarked
List price: $729,000


1301 N. Astor St., Unit 4
Adler gave his usual touches to the fourth-floor apartment in this 1929 Phillip Maher building.
Landmarked locally, but interiors can be remodeled
List price: $2.6 million

1500 N. Astor St., Unit 3 (Sold)
Interiors of this three-bedroom in the 1893 Patterson-McCormick Mansion were renovated by the architect in 1927.
Landmarked locally, but interiors can be remodeled
List price: $1.3 million

Changes to This Story

  • Oct. 23, 2014: This story has been changed to reflect which houses have sold since presstime. Also, an earlier online version misspelled the top photographer's last name. It is Swinehart.