I see a lot of homes so it’s not often that I find a home that I get emotional about and can’t tear myself away from. But it happened on Saturday when I had the privilege of touring an historic landmark mansion that is for sale at 2801 S. Prairie in the Douglas neighborhood. It turned into a 1 hour event for the 6 of us in our group, including our clients, one of their parents, a colleague of mine and his significant other. We were in awe. Apparently, so were the other potential buyers there that stayed as long as we did.
No small part of the appeal of this home is it’s history, most of which I obtained from a copy of a September 27, 1962 Chicago Daily Tribune article that we found in the house. The house was originally built by George Ellery Wood, who was in the lumber business. I kid you not. His name was really Wood. It was designed by the famous architect John Cochrane, who designed the Illinois State Capital, and it was built in 1885 at a cost of $97,760, which according to one inflation calculator I found is equivalent to $2.3 MM today.
At some point the home was transferred to George’s daughter, Mrs. Frank Meadowcroft, who lived there until it was apparently abandoned for 17 years and fell into a total state of disrepair as you can imagine. The house was then purchased in 1948 by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Boyd for only $6500, which was actually a token amount. Legend has it that the Boyds could have just gotten the house for free but since it was 1948 and the Boyds were black they didn’t want to be accused of any wrongdoing so they insisted on paying something for the house.
At the time they bought the house all the first floor windows were broken and it had no electricity, gas, heat, or water and the floors were covered with broken plaster because the roof leaked. In order to keep themselves warm the Boyds set their alarm clocks for every 2 hours and went around throwing wood into all the fireplaces. Interestingly, the 1962 Tribune article counts 7 fireplaces, not the 6 in the current listing. The front door didn’t work so they climbed a ladder to go in and out the back door.
Despite the fact that Charles Boyd was an attorney and his wife was a sociology lecturer at Roosevelt University, they did all the rehab work themselves with the help of friends, who often received legal services or boarding in exchange for their labor. They also spent 14 years restoring the house and $25,000. In the end they valued it at $70,000, which probably worked out to a mere fraction of what they earned at their day jobs on an hourly basis.
However, towards the end of the rehab project, the city of Chicago embarked on an urban renewal project in the area. Apparently, the other mansions in the area had not fared as well as this home and the city wanted to level the entire neighborhood. The city sued to demolish the home but the Boyds ultimately got the city to drop the suit and the house was saved. Can you imagine if the city had succeeded after 14 years of work? At some point it was designated a historic landmark and bears a plaque with a brief history on the front of the house.
Mrs. Boyd apparently was left alone with the house at some point and lived there until just a few years ago when she died. The house is being sold by her estate and is being marketed by Fred Scovell of Keller Williams and within the last week was marked down by $251K from $850,000. The 6,000 square foot home has 8 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 6 fireplaces, a game room, a basement, and a 5 bedroom carriage house in the back that we did not see but assumed from the outside that it is falling apart. Peculiarly, it seemed like almost every room had a sink in it.
The home is filled with original detailed wood work (well, it was built by a lumber guy) and stained glass windows. The stained glass windows are bowing out so they need to be rebuilt – I assume that such a thing can be done for a price. Each fireplace is a work of art, with exquisite mantles and irreplaceable custom ceramic tiles – each tile has a unique sculpted relief on it that forms part of an entire pattern. The fireplaces appear to be in good condition but we noticed that several of them, if not all, were sealed up and would therefore not function without some work.
Speaking of work…let’s face it you don’t get a mansion like this for $599,000 unless it needs some work. The home has a new boiler and a new roof, which is a good start, but history has come full circle. The floors need a lot of work – not just refinishing – and there is quite a bit of evidence of water damage (from before the roof was fixed?) on many walls and ceilings. The bathrooms and kitchen are so small, so old, and so decrepit as to be non-functional so those are complete gut jobs – nothing worth salvaging there. Also, many of the windows need substantial frame repairs.
There are also some neat little surprises in the house – like the lamp on the post at the bottom of the staircase which you can see in both the 1962 photo and the current real estate photos below. There are books lying around that were published in the 1800s and an old trunk filled with…really old stuff. The house is also filled with what is left of the antique furniture after an auction but I won’t elaborate out of fear of drawing the wrong kind of attention. It’s pretty cool to open an empty drawer and find it lined with newspaper pages from 1929. Oh…and Mrs. Boyd was apparently a pretty feisty old lady since we also found a couple of old rifles standing up next to a door along with an axe. I suspect that you could easily get the estate to throw in all the stuff lying around the house. Who knows what you will find.
The home was featured on Cribchatter a while back and much of the conversation there focused on the neighborhood. It sits on a 50 X 150 lot with empty lots on three sides, which is a bit depressing. There is a school in back of the property and a police station about one block south of the property, with an unobstructed view of the home. So people who are worried about the neighborhood can take some comfort in being within earshot of Chicago’s finest.
In case you are wondering, our clients decided they weren’t up for the project (otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging about this), though it was tempting.