Photos: Chris Guillen
The Real A-Team
A developer and his architect restore the greenery of an infamously spoiled David Adler/Jens Jensen estate in Lake Forest
The Lake Forest mansion that was the scene of the town’s most notorious landscape redesign is back on the market after a spectacular rehab and extensive new grounds work. In 1986, the TV and movie star Mr. T paid $1.7 million for the estate known as Two Gables in the center of Lake Forest. A few years later he took a chain saw to dozens of majestic oak trees on the seven-and-a-half-acre property and yanked out lavish gardens designed by Jens Jensen.
Built in 1910 for Orville Babcock, a banker, Two Gables is the work of H. T. Lindeberg, an East Coast architect of country homes for the rich. Laurance Armour bought the house in 1913 and, after a 1928 fire, enlisted the Chicago architect David Adler to renovate. The estate stayed in the Armour family’s hands for more than 70 years, until the sale to Mr. T.
Evidently the inside of the house suited the man who played B. A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus on The A-Team. He left most of the work by Adler and his sister-the interior designer Frances Elkins-intact, including a stately paneled library and a delft-tiled master bathroom with hand-carved drapery moldings.
In the late 1990s, a family bought the estate and vowed to restore the grounds, but because of personal setbacks they moved on, having planted just one tree. In 2003, the developer Rocco DeFilippis paid $3.8 million for the estate. Working with the architect Michael Breseman, DeFilippis has painstakingly restored the original 10,000-square-foot house and added 5,000 square feet of new space. Most stunning of the addition is the two-story great room, with high oak paneling and an artfully ribbed and beamed ceiling. Outside, DeFilippis has planted several dozen trees, with more planned.
The medieval charm of an Evanston property stands the test of time
In December 1896, the lead story in the début issue of the Chicago-based magazine House Beautiful gushed about an Evanston property with an elaborately carved, beamed, and turreted exterior and a sumptuous interior with a living room whose mullioned windows, beamed ceiling, and ample woodwork gave the room “a distinctly medieval appearance.” The house, then the home of a Northwestern University religion professor, is still impressive on its corner lot near Evanston’s lakefront. Gargoyles and corbels, Moorish round-topped windows, a diagonally striped turret, and a covered second-story balcony make the residence a signature property, the kind of house that defines Evanston. “It makes jaws drop,” says Alan May, the Coldwell Banker agent who sold the house in October for John and Sharon Watrous, the owners since 1999.
After an extensive restoration, which included a kitchen expansion that maintains the distinctive character of the property, the couple got a chance to buy Sharon’s dream house, a few blocks away, she says. The Watrouses will undertake a similar upgrade in their new home, she says, and will most likely use the same architects, Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker. Plans for the new house include building a pool, something that wouldn’t fit at the old address. That predicament was foretold by House Beautiful’s writer, who lamented that “the limitations of building on a city block prevent the house from having the ample grounds and surroundings it deserves.”