Benjamin Marshall was one of Chicago’s most flamboyant architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, famous for designing the Blackstone and Drake Hotels, the sprawling South Shore Cultural Center, and many high-rise lakefront buildings that showcased his love of European architecture.
Marshall found inspiration for his buildings in every corner of the world: France, Italy, Morocco, Wyoming. There may be no better example of how he mixed styles than the stone mansion at 4900 South Ellis Avenue, now on the market for $2.5 million. The four-story, 7,500-square-foot house, which has six bedrooms and four full baths, was modeled after Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s home in Bologna.
The exterior resembles a palazzo. Rumor has it the dragon gondola planters were commissioned by a previous owner engaged to an Italian. Step through the gated entry, and arched double doors open into a dramatic marble foyer with an exquisite gilded ceiling and mosaic floor and a staircase leading to a skylit atrium.
Surrounding the staircase on the second level are four spacious bedrooms with original plasterwork and ornate fireplaces, representing Marshall’s fascination with open-room French design and lavish Parisian apartments. But the highlight of this home is on the third floor: a 30-by-27-foot Moorish ballroom with an illuminated blue domed ceiling. Although the rooms are grand, there are several intimate spaces, including a den, a sun porch, and even a “fainting room” adjacent to the ballroom — an amenity, popular in the 19th Century, that offered a private area for women to relax after a night of dancing.
To truly appreciate Marshall’s eclecticism, though, go downstairs to the log-cabin-themed basement, which has original timbers as well as a beamed ceiling. The listing agent speculates that Marshall was intrigued by the Wild West’s popularity at the turn of the century. Aida Sulayman, the home’s owner since 1981, added a modern touch to the basement, one that suits Marshall’s fondness for France and Italy: a wine cellar.