Boyhood dream home becomes reality with historical twist

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

You see the tagline all over local real estate listings: "A home located on the street of dreams," but what exactly makes a certain location the street of dreams? For one River Forester, it's more than just a phrase in a listing. What began as a boyhood interest turned into homeownership and a renovation of an Art Deco Style home with a fascinating history.

As a young teenager growing up in Schiller Park, Mike Murray and his friends used to ride their bikes through neighboring River Forest, and one particular home caught his eye.

"I would take long bike rides here with my friends," he recalls. "The minute I got my driver's license, I stalked the neighborhood. I always loved this house."

An architecture buff, Murray counts Walter Gropius as one of his favorite architects. While 1302 Jackson, the home he refers to, had undergone many changes, Murray could see the Bauhaus influences underneath.

"When I was a kid, all you first saw from the street was a big evergreen hedge with what looked like a concrete box sticking out over the top, but I knew it had potential."

In 2011, when Murray was looking to buy in the area, he was thrilled to find the house for sale. "When I looked online for a house in River Forest, it popped up, so I thought it was kismet."

The purchase may have been fate, but Murray knew from the start that the home needed a lot of work.

"At some point in its history, someone had added a big mansard roof. It was so noticeable and out of place that people called it the Burger King house," he says. "The day I closed on the house, was the day I began renovations by tearing off that roof."

Murray also turned what was once an attached garage into more living space, creating a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and an adjacent family room that opens into a large master suite. The bedroom includes a spacious master bath with tiles that complement the home's original Art Deco Style.

With many rooms in the house having access to the outdoors, Murray also carefully designed the home's landscaping. Stone pavers in the driveway, walkways and patio create outdoor living areas, and a new garage was designed to complement the style.

1933 World's Fair

The home needed a complete renovation, and in expanding its footprint, Murray was careful to respect all original Art Deco features. The style of the home was what drew him in, but he was surprised to learn about its place in history.

"In River Forest, a lot of people stay in their homes a long time, so they really know the neighborhood," he says. "I had neighbors who had lived here forever knocking on my door to tell me about the home's past."

The home was built in conjunction with The Homes of Tomorrow Exposition at the 1933 World's Fair. It was one of five representing the future of architecture. According to local lore, it was the first Federal Housing Administration (FHA) home ever built. After the World's Fair ended in 1936, the home was disassembled and moved to River Forest where all of the original ironwork and stonework were reincorporated into a new concrete shell.

What was then a new style of design didn't go over so well in suburban America, according to Murray. "This was a prototype home to build others off of. Originally, there were plans to build an identical home next door, but everyone thought this house was so ugly, that it never got off the ground," he says. "There are more FHA homes in Riverside, and over time, they were all quite modified from their original designs."

People in the 1930s might have cringed at the boxy structure, but today, the home's concrete exterior and wide expanses of windows and open rooms are very appealing to current sensibilities. Original Art Deco details, including an ironwork staircase, casement windows, and vibrant green vitrolite tile, are bits of historic detail that are testament to the long-lived design.

The historic connection doesn't end with the home's original features. Murray says his sister is constantly reminding him of a World's Fair connection that hits closer to home. Murray's grandparents met at the World's Fair, and while no one can say whether they walked through the home that their grandson would someday lovingly restore, he likes to think that they at least walked by it.

Moving on

Unfortunately, Murray's job is keeping him out of state for long periods of time, so he's made the difficult decision to put the home on the market. He hopes a buyer will appreciate the updates he's made as well as the history.

Better Homes and Garden Gloor Realty's Amy Tomaso is listing the home for $749,000 and notes that it represents a unique opportunity.

"Mike is selling the home furnished," she says. "He really put so much thought into the renovation. Every room has outdoor access, whether it's to patios and the yard on the first floor or balconies on the second floor. The home is just flooded with natural light."

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