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List Price: $4.75 million
The Property: I have been to heaven. Seriously. For a Chicagoan, this is about as close to heaven as I can imagine being: overlooking all of Millennium Park and the lake from a sensational 19th-floor room that started out a century ago as an open-air observatory. It’s surrounded by hefty old limestone columns and carved stone arches that go up to an 18-foot ceiling. Now living space, it’s been surrounded by glass windows in between all of those columns.
Outside the windows lie three balconies, where you’re surrounded by everything that makes this city magnificent: architecture from the 19th through the 21st Century, our beloved park, our lake filled with boats, and the horizon. From street level on Michigan Avenue, you can see it’s a beautiful building, but until you get up to this penthouse you don’t really see the intricate details of the tower. And because of the contours of the building, you see architectural ornamentation from every room in the home.
The condo is laid out on a total of six levels: four indoors and two outdoors. The main living level starts with the pillared main room on the east and then to the west of that lies a more contemporary layout that combines kitchen, dining, family, and bar areas all into one great-room floorplan—with great views. Here you don’t get the original interior details that are intact in the main room, but you have terrific contemporary finishes: wide-plank floors stained espresso; black lacquer cabinetry, bookshelves, and bars; marble tops on the bar and in the kitchen; and one of two very handsome steel contemporary staircases.
That rear staircase goes to one pod of two bedrooms and a very large bath. The other staircase, in the front or east side of the home, leads up past several levels. One has a bedroom. The next has the master suite, including a big bathroom, the bedroom itself with views east toward the lake, a large closet, and another space that could be used as a sitting room or office—whatever it becomes, it has million-dollar views of its own. And then the uppermost living level, staged for now as a media room, has an enormous skylight bringing in lots of sun, more of the built-ins seen downstairs, and peekaboo windows that frame nice views out over the Pritzker Pavilion.
From there, you go up two more levels, both of them outside. The first exposes a sweep of Lake Michigan and the city’s architecture south, west, and north of the tower. Up one more level and you’re surrounded by our treasures: all manner of architecture, the Chicago River, the city’s wonderful green front yard, and Lake Michigan—and oddly, as we filmed on that 20th-floor perch, I could even smell Chicago-style pizza baking.
There’s one man to thank for all of that, except for the pizza. Aaron Montgomery Ward had his headquarters in this tower, and it’s from here the he fought the battle to keep the lakefront “forever open, clear and free.” The condo and the park are both in a way Ward’s work. I’ve often wondered why we don’t have a statue of Aaron Montgomery Ward in Millennium Park, thanking him for all he did, but looking down on Millennium Park from his tower, I think I’ve found his monument.
Price Points: Although re-development of this former office building into condos got started in the late 1990s, even before Millennium Park, the developer stumbled and over the years the penthouse stayed unsold and was eventually taken back by a lender. Avra Properties bought the still-raw space—6,400 square feet indoors and 2,600 outdoors—from the bank for about $2 million last year and finished it out to sell as a luxurious home with four bedrooms, five-plus baths, and two parking spaces. Listing agent Colin Hebson says that although the space is clearly unique, the price is based on recent sales of comparably sized downtown condos.
2 weeks ago