Letting go of the family home

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The Amel family has lived on Humphrey Avenue in northeast Oak Park for well over a century. Now in her 80s, Ethel Amel, the matriarch of the family, is ready to put the property on the market with the help of her daughter Annette. But saying goodbye to the Victorian and its coach house where Ethel and Annette and her brother were raised won't be easy.

The home was first purchased by Annette's grandparents in 1902, and the couple has their own interesting story.

"My grandpa lived in the house with his parents and seven siblings, as well as one set of his grandparents," she explains. "There was a lot of life in this property."

Annette's grandfather went blind at the age of seven and was sent to live in a school for the blind in Chicago. While there, he met his future wife, Annette's grandmother, who was also legally blind. They were married in front of the fireplace of the family home in Oak Park, and moved back in.

"My grandfather was a pianist for the Kiwanis and Lions clubs and also tuned pianos and taught piano in the home. My grandmother taught blind and paralyzed children.

"While she was working full time and had a child, she also went to Northwestern for graduate school, quite an accomplishment at that time," says Annette. "Both of my grandparents treated everyone with kindness and respect regardless of race or religion. Also unusual for that time, my grandfather did all of the cooking at home."

During the Depression, the home was converted into a two-flat, and Annette's grandparents rented out the second floor to boarders while retaining the coach house for use by the extended family.

The property

The current property consists of a Victorian house, dating to around 1902 and a rear coach house that is quite a bit older. Annette says that while the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest doesn't have records going back to the time the coach house was believed to have been built, there is speculation that it dates back to the 1800s.

"The coach house was the original farm house for the farm on the next block of Humphrey," she explains. "The cellar is amazing as you can see all the tree trunks the house was built on. Architects who have seen it have been quite astonished, and say the two houses are built so well they'll be here another 200 years."

The coach house consists of two or three bedrooms depending on how the new owners want to set up house. Because the dwelling was built during the time of outhouses, the bathroom was a later addition, and the stairs to the second story lead up from the bathroom. The upstairs has two large tandems off of the bedrooms. When not used by family members, the coach house has been rented out.

The Victorian has been used as both a two-flat and a single-family home. While it is set up with a kitchen on each floor, Annette notes that it could easily be returned to its single-family status. "The property is literally in limbo. There's so much flexibility. Someone who appreciates vintage and has funds and a vision will love this property."

The Victorian retains vintage details such as beaded wood trim, which Annette describes as looking like a string of pearls. The original hardwood floors, doors and doorknobs also add to the charm, as does Annette's favorite feature: a leaded glass window in the front of the home.

"It's so cool because at night, when the street light is on, the light comes through the window and makes the shapes of the glass panels on the wall above the fireplace. I'm in awe it's so beautiful."

For sale by owner

Annette and her mother are listing the home for sale on Craigslist, and they believe the right buyer is out there somewhere.

"We priced it as best offer, and we think the house is probably worth something in the mid-$300,000 range," says Annette. "We took into account the work that needs to be done to the property. There is so much potential here as an income property, and it also has five parking spaces, an additional benefit in Oak Park."

The home has two addresses, 541 and 539 N. Humphrey Ave., but is considered one lot, with one real estate tax PIN number. The property is being sold in "as is" condition, and Annette hopes the ideal buyer will be someone who can make an all cash offer and be prepared for some renovation work.

"After living here for so many years, my mom has been through a lot of emotions in getting ready to sell the home," she admits. "It took a while for her to be willing to sell it, but we know it has to be done."

Anyone interested in the property may contact Annette at 708-848-8519.

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