Two blocks off Lombard’s main drag, a restored 1879 Victorian, known as the 'Santa Claus House,' is entering its second year on the market. Lombard’s village center is checkered with 50-year-old ranch homes and 130-year-old manors and farmhouses, including the one-time home of Little Orphan Annie comic strip cartoonist Harold Gray. Today’s featured property was built by Lombard’s first physician. He divided his home into living rooms and exam rooms.
There was no indoor plumbing, so a rain collection system brought clean water to the exam room’s sink. The roof-mounted basin is now an ornament in owner Kathy Klein’s gardens while the sink is still a sink in a new half-bathroom. The home’s interiors are layered with local, custom woodwork from a talented carpenter. None of the interior walls are original and many room dimensions have been changed through successive expansion and reorientation.
The gut renovation took two solid years, and Klein was repeatedly encouraged to put it to rest and sell. She took the project on as a challenge to herself, and if she hadn’t the next highest bidder was prepared to tear the historic house down for new construction. While limited effort was made to replicate heavy Victorian ornamentation, there is great respect for the original aesthetic in materials and repurposed relics. The signature addition to the new Great Room was a donation from the carpenter—an ornate plaster fireplace salvaged from a decaying North Carolina mansion. The other three fireplaces were rebuilt as focal points in the family room, master bedroom and guest suite.
“I’ve seen a lot of beautiful Victorian homes since I entered the field in 2001,” says listing agent Sondra Savino of Redfin. “But I’ve never seen one so intricately detail-oriented as a gut-reno.” The house is drenched in hardwood, from pillars and panels to tiger maple stairs and coffered oak ceilings. The renovation unearthed treasures from earlier eras, including old medical instruments, a “listening tube” that ran behind the walls from the master bedroom to the former exam room (with a theorized use for home security, not strictly for eavesdropping), and $3,900 in silver certificates jammed into PVC piping. That last item was discovered when Klein was dismantling the covering on a second-floor sleeping porch—one of several outdoor spaces.
The house borders the 18-mile Great Western Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path is also close by—about a half-mile to the south. For several years now, Klein has drowned her front lawn in illuminated plastic Santa Clauses—140 of them in rows. The ‘Santa Claus House’ moniker is bound to outlive the practice. As for Klein, she hasn’t plotted her next move and is letting her instincts lead the way.
Price Points: Klein’s house is on the larger side with singular vintage appeal, and the two-third acre lot is two or three times the norm in the older part of town. But the $925,000 asking price from August 2013 didn’t do the trick in light of the area’s stock of 4,000-sqaure-foot McMansions available for less. $749,000 brings the home to a far more competitive place, with a price per square foot of $197.