Chicago artist and architect Edgar Miller left his frescos, stained glass, and mosaics in concentrated bursts around Gold Coast and Old Town interiors. Nowhere is there more of this man’s craft than at the former Carl Street Studios at 155 West Burton Place, an 1880s mansion turned artist collective, co-op units, and now condos.
The largest unit by a mile, a combination of three large studio spaces, returned to market June 4 for $1.85 million. Dennis Rodkin visited the home in September 2009 when the asking price was $2.6 million, down 16% from a high of $3.1 million. In subsequent months, the price would slip to $1.8 million, just shy of the new listing price. “Rather than respond to a declining market with continued price cuts, my sellers decided to wait it out,” says listing agent Millie Rosenbloom of Baird & Warner. Bob Shapiro and Ginger Farley found tenants that “love it like it should be loved”, despite paying well below market rent, and so a short wait became a long one.
As noted in our past coverage, the 5,500 square foot unit is the signature property in the old studio complex, a set of buildings that now host 22 condos and converge in a series of eclectic Parisian courtyards and parallel rooftops. It’s the brainchild of Miller and Sol Kogen, collaborators since their days as classmates at the School of the Art Institute. The duo brought utopian aspirations for artist enclaves to the Carl Street Studios in the late 1920s, but Old Town’s surging gentrification decades later made it all but inevitable that the space would hit the open market. It eventually did—in the mid-1980s, when Kogen’s daughter sold the rental complex to the late developer Mark Mamolen, a Kogen-Miller aficionado who restored and dwelt in numerous works by the pair.
After 12 years of renovation and reconstruction, an initial combination of two studio spaces became Mamolen’s private abode. Shapiro and Farley bought it in 2004, added the third studio, and, with the help of Kathryn Quinn Architects, reoriented the home to better facilitate the merging of two families (Shapiro and Farley each had their own children). This meant maximizing opportunities for privacy alongside vibrant gathering spaces. It was done without any further enlargement, which would have been be absurd—this place is practically a cloistered city, with labyrinthine stairways and passageways and bedroom levels that go unseen until you plunk down in them.
“Once upon a time, my sellers had rented the next door unit for one of their family members,” says Rosenbloom. “But they never owned it so it was eventually sealed off from rest of space.” Unlike the splayed open floor plans typical to a lot of newer, conventional real estate, this home really feels its square footage.
Most of the condo has its original inset hardwoods and tile flooring and diverse built-ins. Shapiro and Farley reproduced many pieces of furniture to blend with these intricacies. They also did things like expand and beautify the roof deck and dismantle a large bar for its stone, which was then transplanted to kitchen counters.
Existing original detailing—what the property is known for—is so obsessively ornate and varied that listing it all won’t do it justice. Just know that, as you roam, you’re never without a manic mosaic, art glass populated by animals, plaster fresco, or chunk of salvaged marble nearby. Mamolen lured Miller out of retirement in 1984 to assist in some of the finer points of the overall rehab, and he produced new treasures like bedroom doors painted and engraved with dense safari scenes.
A staircase tunnels to the master suite below the main level. Slit windows through thick white walls contribute to the illusion of being in an underground hideout when, in fact, this is just the building’s ground level. The condo spans four floors in all, putting the roof deck in the treetops amidst decorative roofs of neighboring units.
This special place was imagined as art working for art, never meant for consumption by the luxury marketplace. But that’s where it has landed, and you’re unlikely to do much better than $1.85 million for price. Utilities and building upkeep kick the assessment up to $3,676 a month, and parking for two cars is an extra $450 a month, so budget for much more than a mortgage.
For more on who Miller was and what he meant to Chicago's art community, check out this short film, Edgar Miller: Chicago's Forgotten Renaissance Man from Matthew Cunningham on Vimeo. And don't miss a photo gallery of today's property below.