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If architecture represents who we are and what we strive to be — living in one of the most imposing homes in River Forest makes a statement. The English Tudor mansion, commonly known as the Grunow/Accardo estate, at 915 Franklin Ave., contains 24 rooms within its 22,000-square-foot interior, erected by the Buurma Brothers for William Grunow, a radio pioneer.
The complex structure was built in 1929 with an asymmetrical façade clad in brick and stone with copper details. A 7-foot-high black iron fence with gold accents provides security for the estate, complete with two electronic gates for access. One masonry gable contains an elaborate carved stone entrance and a two story stacked window pattern forming the elaborate overlapping steep peaks. A second gable in red brick and cut stone is faced with a three-part chimney with intricate diagonal brick patterns. The dramatic pitched roofs are finished in red terracotta tile.
The Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society (IWS) presents its 15th Annual Holiday Housewalk and Market on Dec. 6 and 7, featuring tours of five extraordinary homes, including the Grunow/Accardo mansion in River Forest. The current owners have restored the estate to its original design while updating to provide modern amenities for their family. Four other home owners have also graciously volunteered to open their holiday-decorated homes on behalf of the mission of the IWS Children's Clinic, located at 328 Lake St. in Oak Park.
The proceeds benefit the clinic, which provides medical, dental and social services to children under 18 from 50 west Cook County suburban communities and the city of Chicago, whose families are unable to afford the cost of private care. Tickets for the housewalk and market are $40 in advance or $45 at the door ($30 for senior citizens). Advance pricing tickets are available until Dec. 3 online at www.childrenscliniciws.org.
Not only is the estate one of the largest homes in the area, it is full of history. Tony Accardo, the infamous gangster, lived in the house from 1951 to '63. As the boss of the "Chicago Outfit" he was eager to display his success. The manse was the perfect physical symbol of his illicit power and ill-gotten gains.
Accardo advised his fellow mobsters to keep their heads down in low profile so as not to attract attention from the legal authorities. He lived unobtrusively among the respectable lawyers, doctors and businessmen in this quiet up-scale community. "Big Tuna," as he was known, only spent 12 years in the house, then moved to a much more modest ranch-style house in River Forest, taking his own advice about conducting business in low profile. Ironically, Accardo, who lived a lifetime in crime, never spent a night in jail and died of natural causes at 86 years old. He escaped the fate of the equally notorious Sam Giancana, who was murdered in his Oak Park home.
The opulent interior of the River Forest estate contains nine bedrooms, including six master suites one with a black onyx bathtub and gold fixtures, accessed via a dramatic mahogany spiral staircase in a 2½-story foyer. The monumental 25 x 40-foot living room has restored mahogany wall panels, a cherry parquet floor, floor-to-ceiling windows, twin crystal chandeliers and a pipe organ. A modern kitchen and breakfast room are connected to the large family room.
The lower level contains an enclosed swimming pool, finished in blue mosaic tiles. Adjacent to the pool is a two-lane bowling alley and an English pub/billiard room that can seat 50 people. A walk-in safe is located in a rear area. The owners have graciously opened their lovingly restored home for this great cause.
Oak Parker Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.