Door-to-door restorations of the 500-plus historic row homes are racing along in historic Pullman. It’s hard to say how bewitched buyers are by the neighborhood’s National Historical Park bid or its new Wal-Mart Supercenter, but definitely a bit. Low prices, low taxes, and those lovely historic preservation tax credits are the core incentives. Buyers are reenergizing facades and fixtures while contractors are performing total guts on a few places at a time. “I’d say 80 or 90 percent of homes that come up for sale get a major rehab,” says listing agent Michael Wolski of Coldwell Banker, broker-at-large for Pullman with five of the historic district’s eight active listings. Contractor George Lubovich has fixed up nine Pullman landmark houses in six years and currently has one three-bed on the market on the 11100 block of South Saint Lawrence Avenue.
One block from the factory grounds, this 1,368-square-foot 1880 home was built for a skilled craftsman and is on the oldest row in Pullman. Architect and master planner Solon Spencer Beman put the neighborhood together at a rate of a few blocks a year, and so there are several distinct stages of housing with varied styles, layouts, and progressive innovations. By 1883, for instance, some homes for skilled workers and executives were getting a third story. The early example presented here, asking $122,500, has some special quirks that Lubovich preserved for authenticity, namely the steep, slanted stairway with original oak and the full first floor bathroom tucked behind the kitchen. “Every house has its own personality and you have to do what the personality requires,” says Lubovich.
The indoor plumbing stayed downstairs in Pullman’s earliest models and usually served one half-bath, but here there's a full and a half. “Everyone keeps screaming for original layouts, so we left the downstairs bathroom where it is,” says Wolski. The home was vacant for many years before Lubovich swooped in, having been one family’s nest for a few generations. All of the old oak flooring and trim was salvageable. The kitchen and bathroom fixtures are new and the tight cluster of bedrooms has new carpeting. It’s incredible to think that at one time seven children and their parents shared this space.
Two blocks south is another handsome listing in move-in condition. In its sixth month on the market, the three-bed has stepped down $6,000 to $139,000. A plus-sized 1885 edition of the basic worker’s cottage model, its square footage matches the skilled worker’s row home but the layout differs greatly. There is no foyer—one enters directly into the living room. The staircase is at the joint of the living and dining rooms, and a larger kitchen is at the rear with a granite island and French doors to the dining room. The original molding and bright, refinished hardwoods are highlights at this address, with bull’s eye insets in corners of the common area doorways. The doors themselves are all original, with original knobs.
Even though this worker’s cottage came late in the construction of the planned town it has one of the narrowest footprints at just 16 feet (just visit at the linear backyard, sans garage, to get an idea). They get as skinny as 14 feet, according to Wolski. “East coasters still think it’s spacious for a row, but we get the opposite reaction from Chicagoans.” Without the wastefulness of a foyer or side setbacks, the home feels larger than the specs; the master bedroom, in fact, is as big as it gets for a worker’s cottage.
Rounding out the tour is a partially restored two-bed property one block east on Champlain Avenue. This one won’t get a total restoration, with Jason Straton of Straton Investments and Improvements focusing on the façade, floors, ceilings, trim, and bathroom. A buyer will want to finish it off with kitchen upgrades and backyard landscaping, do some finer detailing, and possibly enhance the rec room in the almost-habitable basement. The going price is $99,000, down from $110,000.