There are 43 David Adler-designed mansions in the Chicago area, but only one in ultra-wealthy Winnetka: this six-bedroom brick Georgian from 1937. It was Adler’s last major commission, and almost met the wrecking ball in the late ‘80s because the 6,650 square foot home was poorly suited to wheelchair accessibility. Ironically, Adler’s work supplanted an earlier house by that other North Shore stud Howard Van Doren Shaw.
Thanks to a deal brokered by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and the patience of then-owners Shirley and Patrick Ryan, buyers Donald and Suzanne Aleshire stepped forward to help move the 900-ton behemoth from Laurel Avenue one block away to Burr Avenue. The cost of that operation was around $160,000.
In the last few years, the Aleshires embarked on a head-to-toe historic restoration, but abruptly lost the property to foreclosure in 2013. The bank-owned home is being marketed as-is by Kinzie Real Estate Group and will list today for $1.599 million—a price that gives wiggle room for ongoing investment. Whoever buys it should expect to spend several hundred thousand dollars on a new heating and cooling system, bathroom upgrades, and the completion of already substantial improvements.
The house’s in-between state of rehab doesn’t detract from its beauty, and it’s an instructive experience to walk through and see before and after components, room to room. For instance, some fireplaces have received facelifts while others sit worn; half of the enormous kitchen has been brightly redesigned, with the dusty remainder pushed to the side; and the bathrooms have widely varying layouts and tile colors, but cheap 1980s material intrusions pop up now and again.
A Landmarks Illinois conservation easement protects the entire exterior and the current siting (on a grassy double lot), common rooms, and bedrooms from physical alteration. Basically, there’s latitude for splashing some color on the walls but little else. A generous exemption is made for bathrooms and the kitchen, permitting reconstruction to modern standards.
Known for his eclecticism, Adler sprinkled whimsical details throughout the home that are not necessarily in line with classical Georgian style. This includes intermittent Greek key patterning on moldings and doors; a Chinese Chippendale-style metal banister on the main staircase; ornate plaster light fixtures; mother-of-pearl clad doors in the master suite; a set of French doors opening to the yard from the living, dining, and garden rooms; and composite Zenotherm flooring on the main level. The exterior is also marked by four custom molded copper downspouts, reportedly modeled on scraps of antiquity housed at the Art Institute.
Most of the restoration work to date has happened in common rooms and bedrooms, and the library is a particularly fine example. The only all-wood space in the house, the walls are pickled oak, it has fabulous millwork, and there’s a fireplace with a touch of marble.
Three of the six bedroom have en suite baths, including the master. Two more share a jack-and-jill setup (in glorious forest green tile), and the sixth was once the servant’s quarters. With the exception of the master, the bedrooms are similarly sized with refinished hardwood floors, gridded windows, and built-ins. The master is mostly original, with a walk-in closet and a silver leaf dressing room to go with its large mirror and tile bathroom. Finally, there’s a third floor recreation room with a contoured ceiling, line of dormer windows, a walk-in cedar closet, and a powder room.
Listing agent Christine Lutz, Director of Kinzie Residential Brokerage, thinks $400,000 to $600,000 will do the trick in bringing the restoration to a satisfying finish. Lutz also speculates that fair market value post-restoration can easily top $2.5 million. The Ryan family paid $2.3 million for the property in 1990 while it still sat at 1130 Laurel Avenue.
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