Price: $2.39 million
When lawyer and real estate speculator Paul Cornell began laying out Hyde Park Township just prior to the Civil War, he reserved the land that would be modern day Kenwood for large tracts of pasture with a sprinkling of estate homes. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition sparked great interest in the area, as well as a mixture of housing types and densities. Pass through South Kenwood today and there are multifamily buildings hugging Hyde Park Boulevard, mansions with huge setbacks a block north, and run-of-the-mill 6,000-square-footers everywhere else.
Today’s featured home is a seven-bedroom, 6,700-square-foot manor built in 1903 for businessman William Morris. Architects Jacob and John Doerr built a large number of apartment houses in Hyde Park/Kenwood between 1890 and the 1920s, and you’ll find these bulky three-story buildings running together on several blocks with indistinguishable bowed-out facades.
Sellers Catherine Ojakangas and Nicho Hatsopoulos are both neuroscientists, he with the University of Chicago and she pursuing independent offshoots. They bought in 2006 after some years working at Brown University. The home’s depth and girth is its strong suit, effortlessly supplying major square footage with the added grandeur of 11.5-foot ceilings, intricate plaster moldings, double-wide doorways, and at least a couple attractive peculiarities. “In 30 years of selling real estate,” says @properties listing agent Jan Smith, “I’ve never seen a built-in grandfather clock.” The other dazzling built-in is a miniature Victorian conservatory on the landing of the main staircase that Ojakangas uses for meditation.
“This house is in really nice shape,” says Smith. “A lot of these places are very large and there’s deferred maintenance. Historic renovation costs around $300 a square foot.” The combined efforts of Ojakangas and the previous owner produced a total renovation, so the next buyer will be free from pressing concerns. There has been about $400,000 in improvements under seller’s tenure, and if they get their asking price it will almost exactly recoup expenditures. The big pieces: a new front porch and brickwork; new back yard with a step-down terrace and basketball court; kitchen and study gutted and rebuilt in the past year with French doors; new water line from the street; new flat roofs and copper gutters; and new windows. The previous owner built out the third-floor ballroom and the basement rec room.
The sellers are moving within Kenwood. Ojakangas will miss the house, but not the neighborhood—since they’re staying. “I wouldn’t leave Kenwood, says Ojakangas. “It’s a good place because you’re so close to the lake, Hyde Park, downtown. I think it’s the best community in Chicago because you have all that plus large yards and wide homes.” But what about living at the heart of "Obamawood"? According to seller and broker, it’s not a big deal since only a short block of Greenwood Avenue has restricted access. Most locals expect the Obamas will live elsewhere after 2016.
Price Points: The home’s $2.39 million asking price would have been unthinkable two or three years ago, when many wondered if such big prices would return to Kenwood for anything but the handful of humongous mansions. In the last two years, however, Kenwood has had its two largest sales ever, both brokered by Smith. The 11,500-square-foot Max Adler mansion, at 4939 S. Greenwood Avenue, sold for $4 million in late 2013 and, at least at the time, was the most expensive sale ever recorded south of Madison Avenue. Other neighboring sales in the last 15 months include 4815 S. Woodlawn Avenue ($2.7 million) and 4801 S. Ellis Avenue ($2.6 million). All of these spreads are larger than the featured home, but prices per square foot are in proportion.
More evidence that price is no obstacle: the sellers have already accepted an offer, five days after listing. “We had several showings in the first couple days,” says Smith. “Down here people like certain blocks. The 4900-5000 block of Woodlawn, Kenwood and Greenwood are sort of the primo locations.”