It's tempting to think of row homes as late 19th Century urban relics, but in truth there are many generations of attached housing in the city. Lincoln Park has representatives from 140 years of the type in Chicago, and the two blocks of Maud Avenue between Sheffield and Armitage Avenues summarizes the mix very well. There used to be a block-long 1880s brick row here; only three of these old addresses are still standing, opposite a run of 1990s row homes backing onto a Clybourn Avenue plaza. Further down the block is another contemporary row. But it’s the older stock that, when renovated, draw more admirers. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the surviving three is available for $895,000.
John Hurst bought the place, sans floors, in the late 1980s. “If you came in the front door you’d fall to the basement,” he says. “And the walls were charred.” It clearly had been a squat for some time and much of the block was on par, those lots that still had structures. Along parallel Clybourn Avenue, now brimming with name-brand shopping and loft condos, sat half-occupied industrial warehouses. Late night drag racing was not uncommon. “It wasn’t a dangerous neighborhood, though. There was nobody here.” Hurst did the work as he could afford to, over a period of about three years. “You do a little work, refinance, do a little more work, and refinance again,” he says.
Hurst hired Howard Alan Architects to do a design, and pretty soon the barren two-story home became a dynamic rebuild with a finished basement. Roughly 1,800 square feet with two bedrooms and one office, the house also sports a floating steel and wood staircase, hardwood floors, and a wood-burning fireplace. Steel trusses crisscross the main level and at first look like decorative whimsy. They actually pierce the wall and shoot down to the limestone foundation. Their installation allowed a boost in ceiling height without exposing ductwork.
The effect of hard structural fixtures like the trusses and staircase in the living space is balanced by the soft edges of the walls, mellow colors, rustic furniture, and the gentle angles of the kitchen. When you climb the stairs, there are glimpses of the rooms below through the steel undercarriage. A gridded wall filled in with a plastic screen at the top of the stairs indicates that the bedroom behind it began life as a less private space like an office. Down a skinny hall is the master bedroom and a skylit bathroom with checkered marble serves both.
The last piece worth mentioning is the compact backyard with a rambling garden and lilac bush, sunken to the city’s original grade. A raised deck and walkway encircle it and a 1.5-car garage is behind.
Hurst and his wife are moving to a full-amenity condo building in Evanston. They have enjoyed witnessing the transformation of western Lincoln Park, and don’t even mind the proliferation of “vanity boutiques” on Armitage Avenue, as Hurst puts it. There is still functionality in the mix of businesses, and good places to eat. The home will appeal to couples and small families and may entice reverse commuters. The Kennedy expressway and Clybourn Metra are a half-mile west.
Julie Dorger and Sara McCarthy of Coldwell Banker have the listing.