Oak Park Victorian's past shrouded in legend

Former golf clubhouse? Historical society not so sure

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

It's hard to imagine today, when a drive around Oak Park reveals few wide open green spaces other than municipal parks and a few yards in the estate area of town, but a little more than a century ago, the landscape was quite different. 

For a period of time, there were three golf courses in the area: the Oak Park Golf Club, Westward Ho Golf Club and the River Forest Golf Club. 

None survived the early 20th century onslaught of development in the area, but legend has it that the clubhouse for the Oak Park Golf Club survived as a residence. That house is located at 535 Carpenter Ave., and it's on the market for $710,000.

The golf club itself was short-lived. According to Rachel Berlinski, an administrative assistant at the Oak Park-River Forest Historical Society who researched the property along with Director Frank Lipo, the club started in 1898 and appears to have survived just a couple of years.

The house at 535 Carpenter Ave. was built in 1892, said Berlinski and was occupied by the Carpenter family, after whom the street is named. But there's no proof one way or the other that the house or the family had a connection to the golf club, said Berlinski.

"It's an urban legend that no one's been able to debunk," Berlinski said.

Located south of Madison Street between Home and Grove avenues, the Oak Park Golf Club operated from the mid-1890s to 1903. As Chicago real estate developer Thomas Henry Hulbert moved into the area to create a subdivision of over 175 affordable homes, the nine-hole course on the prairie disappeared, but the house survived.

From at least 1915 through the early 1930s, the home was operated as boarding house, and by the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair, with bats and birds living in the attic. In the 1980s a rehabber purchased the home, creating a loft-like living space in the formerly unfinished attic.

Current owners Kathy and Jerry Lynch, both doctors, bought the house in the late 1990s. As Kathy recalls, they had no business house shopping at the time, but a favorite weekend pastime brought them to the house on Carpenter Avenue. 

"I was just out of residency, and Jerry was just finishing his up," she said. "We had no money, and we had a 1-year-old child. On Sundays, we'd drive around to open houses."

When they pulled up to the open house at 535 Carpenter Ave., daughter Erin was asleep in her car seat, so Kathy ran in to see the house while Jerry stayed with Erin. She says it didn't take her long to make up her mind. 

"I told Jerry, 'You have to go in and see it. We're going to buy this house,'" she said. "Three days later, we put in a bid. Five days later we sold our townhouse. Our parents were a bit surprised with how fast it all happened."

On the first floor, the kitchen was updated by Oak Park Designs and includes white birch Amish cabinets and a view out to the backyard. Throughout the house, original woodwork such as bulls-eye trim, floors and pocket doors have been preserved. The bay windows still sport their original wavy glass. 

In the living room, the fireplace stands where it did in the golf club days, flanked by two original sconces – rewired for today's electricity. Kathy Lynch says of the fireplace, "We used to sit in front of it and wonder -- what's happened in this room over the years? It's pretty cool to think about."

The second floor includes four bedrooms and a massive family bathroom. The claw-foot tub is likely original to the space, but a modern steam shower and two new sinks make it function well for multiple family members at one time.

The third floor was finished as a bonus room in the late 1980s, and the Lynch family turned it into a hangout space and guest room. They converted a half bath to a full bathroom, and there are separate areas for watching television and sleeping. 

While they used it for visiting family, Kathy Lynch notes it would also make a great teen hangout space or quarters for an au pair.

The house sits on a large corner lot, offering plenty of room for kids and pets to play. The Lynches added a Trex deck, paver patio and fireplace outside of the kitchen. 

"The backyard really became a gathering space for us and our kids' friends," Kathy Lynch said. "The side yard has been great for our two rescue dogs, and we planted a tree back there that my mom gave me for my 50th birthday."

With their kids off at college, Kathy and Jerry Lynch no longer need such a large house and are nostalgic for the years spent in the house with their girls. 

 "When people ask us what style our house is, I say family style," Kathy said. "I would do it all again in a heartbeat. You can always work. Work later. Your time with your kids is once in a lifetime."

As sad as they are to say goodbye to the house they have loved for 20-plus years, Kathy Lynch hopes the house that meant so much to her family will mean the same to the next owners. 

"This was it; this was the house we were supposed to have," she said. "When you like something, it just seems like the right thing. The house had good karma. We want another family to have that. I'd love to see a new playset in the backyard. That's what this house is made for."

Agents Cathy Yanda and Steve Green from Baird and Warner think the next owner of this golf club turned house may fall in love just like the Lynches did. 

They will be holding an open house at 535 Carpenter Ave. on Sunday, Feb. 11 from noon to 3 p.m.

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