It’s a sharp home in a serene setting and it played a part in a beloved movie, yet it can’t seem to get sold. Anybody know why?
Well, I’ll give it a shot: The Highland Park home of the best pal Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is now 60 years old, and it came on the market in May 2009 with an asking price of $2.3 million. The property’s connection to one of the best-loved movies of the 1980s was like catnip on the Internet. While the listing got a ton of press, no buyer materialized—even with a couple of price cuts. In February 2011, the listing was deactivated.
Monday night, the home came back on the market, now with a significantly lower price: $1.5 million, or 65 percent of what the sellers wanted four years ago. There’s also a new marketing plan: Emphasize the home’s architectural pedigree, and de-emphasize the “Where Ferris and Cameron Kill the Car” angle.
“One of the things that continually got missed the last time we were on the market is the house has such an incredible architectural history,” Craig Hogan told me Tuesday. Hogan, the regional director for Coldwell Banker Previews, the agency’s luxury division, said the family selling the home—relatives of the now-deceased owners—want the home to be in the hands of owners who will preserver its architectural merits.
That’s laudable, though it may be a tall order. The home is superb in its way: Set onto the edge of a densely wooded ravine are two decidedly modernist buildings: a four-bedroom house built in 1953 and a separate pavilion built in 1974, both rectangular glass-and-wood boxes framed with steel, and both lifted above the ground on pylons. The earlier structure was the work of A. James Speyer, a student of Mies van der Rohe, and the second—the one that features in a pivotal scene in the movie—was in turn designed by one of Speyer’s students, David Haid. The two buildings, commissioned by Ben and Francis Rose for a wooded eight-tenths of an acre in Highland Park, show how a “less is more” approach can make a natural setting the perfect complement to a hard-edged modern structure.
Hogan points out that in the late 1950s, Bethlehem Steel touted the Speyer design as a model for the use of steel in home-building. Landmarks Illinois also held up the house as an exemplar “notable for its progressive design and its deference to the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.”
They’re beautiful—if you like Modernism—but they’re problematic. One problem is that the older, larger building needs to be completely reworked inside. I visited when it was first on the market in 2009 (we didn’t run a story at that time; I was there with a TV show’s crew), and it was clear then that the inside needed help. Aside from dated kitchen and bath fixtures, there was also an issue with the walls: the home had been designed to be modular, in a way, with walls that could be reconfigured to suit a family’s changing needs. But they were thin, some were in disrepair, and some of the rooms they enclosed were awkward. That’s not terrible—lots of older homes need renovation, and because this one was designed to be flexible, “it should be very easy to reconfigure,” Hogan said.
The other problem may be the bigger one: How do you live in two separate buildings in a cold-climate place like this? The 1974 pavilion was built to showcase the Roses’ car collection. It has a kitchen and a bedroom, but it's mostly a four-car show garage. And it has a better piece of the site: it’s cantilevered out into the trees, while the main house stands about 30 paces back from it, more on the ravine than of the ravine. So what do you do: split the family between the two buildings? Use one building as a home and the smaller, better one as an office?
“It’s two structures side by side,” Hogan said, “and while they’re very connected in the feel and the use of the property, they’re not so much on a daily basis. You’d have to figure out how to use them.”
One more issue for a buyer to contend with is the home’s fame as a tourist attraction. The serenity of the setting will often be interrupted by Ferris fans coming to take a peek. I live close enough to the home that I pass it on my bike now and then; it’s not uncommon to see people parked on the street taking pictures (or roaming the property for a better look).
A potential buyer might want to take a lesson from the new owners of the Home Alone house, another recognizable movie icon on the North Shore. The family who bought that Winnetka home for $1.585 million last year now have a big sign out front with a firm request—stay off the property.