Last year, Steven Levitt, the University of Chicago economics professor and coauthor (with Stephen J. Dubner) of the bestseller Freakonomics, moved into a three-story brick colonial revival on Woodlawn Avenue. Turns out Levitt is just the latest in a string of prominent Chicagoans who have lived there. A quick look at the building’s ownership reveals a string of significant contributions to fields as varied as chemistry, urban planning, law, and medicine:
1911 to 1941
THE OWNER: Lewis W. Riddle, architect
The house (and the mirror-image home next door) were built by two architect brothers, Lewis W. and Herbert Hugh Riddle, for their families. The Riddles also built Mather Tower, at 75 East Wacker Drive, the tallest building in Chicago when it went up in 1928.
1941 to 1953
THE OWNER: Morris Kharasch, chemist
During World War II, Kharasch discovered a process to speed up the production of synthetic rubber (at a time when rubber was crucial for military vehicles and access to Asian rubber-producing countries was closed off). He also created the first widely effective seed disinfectants, which killed off bacteria without harming the seeds themselves; by the 1950s, it was estimated that his invention was saving farmers in the U.S. at least $1 billion a year.
1953 to 1980
THE OWNER: Julian Levi, urban planner
As executive director of the South East Chicago Commission, Levi planned and implemented the country’s first homegrown urban renewal project, creating a road map for other cities to follow. His city hall connections didn’t hurt; Mayor Richard J. Daley was a regular guest at the parties Levi threw each year at his home.
1980 to 1985
THE OWNER: Allison S. Davis, lawyer
The son of the education professor W. Allison Davis (one of the first African Americans granted tenure by a college that was not historically black), Davis cofounded the law firm Davis, Miner & Barnhill (today, it’s Miner, Barnhill & Galland), one of the city’s top civil rights practices (in the early nineties, he hired a Harvard Law School star named Barack Obama).
1985 to 2001
THE OWNER: Michael Roizen, M.D.
This physician topped the New York Times bestseller list with his 1999 book RealAge: Are You as Young as You Can Be? It introduced the concept that the body’s “real age” may be younger (or older) than a person’s chronological age. In 2001, Roizen sold the house to Edward Snyder, dean of the U. of C.’s business school. Three years later, Levitt heard that Snyder was thinking of selling. “We had looked for five years for a house that was walking distance to campus [and] big enough for our four kids,” says Levitt. “This was the first house that fit the bill. When my wife, Jeannette, saw the house, she cried-she didn’t want to leave Oak Park, and her best excuse not to had evaporated.” Less than a year after the Levitts moved in, Freakonomics hit the bestseller lists.