Even in Oak Park, where it seems that every other house bears a title — typically the name of its first owner — you know you’re dealing with a horse of a different color (or a house of a different order) when that title includes the word “mansion.” Oak Park has three mansions. The Farson-Mills Mansion (aka Pleasant Home) and the Cheney Mansion are public-sector institutions owned by the Park District of Oak Park.

The third, Oak Park’s iconic Hales Mansion, is still a private home, and it recently hit the local real estate market, and with an interior boasting approximately 9,500 square feet of finished space, it certainly deserves the moniker. Perched on a .91 acre lot on the corner of Oak Park and Chicago avenues, the 1905 house has long been an object of interest for passersby.

Hales to the Jebbies to Ikai

Grain magnate Burton F. Hales and his wife, Frances Howard Siddel, commissioned architect Henry G. Fiddelke to design their Oak Park home in 1903. Fiddelke, who had an office on Marion Street in Oak Park, also designed the original Holmes School, the Joseph Kettlestrings Dunlop House at 401 N. Kenilworth and the Clarence E. and Grace Hall Hemingway House at 600 N. Kenilworth.

The three-story, Tudor Revival Hales Mansion was constructed of light colored brick and limestone and resembles a castle with its pinnacles and cut stone quoins around the windows. The home originally had 21 rooms, five fireplaces, four full baths, three powder rooms, a ballroom, a billiards room, a coach house and a garage.

The Hales family occupied the house for almost 40 years until the home was sold in 1942 to the Catholic Society of Jesus. The Jesuits owned the home for 43 years, and it was used as the residence of six priests who headed the order and administered schools and churches in five Midwestern states. The Jesuits added a chapel to the west end of the home’s 50-foot living room and modernized the kitchen with institutional-sized appliances. Room number decals from their tenure still identify the home’s upstairs bedrooms.

In 1990, international fashion designer Kanae Ikai made Oak Park history by paying a record price for a single-family home in the village. She improved the home during the eight years she lived there, and in 1991 hosted a major benefit for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation (now the Wright Trust). In 2000, under new ownership, the mansion was selected as the 29th Annual American Society of Interior Designers Showcase House to benefit the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society.

Also in 2000, the property was subdivided, creating two separate lots. The former coach house became a separate single-family home, fronting Chicago Avenue. At that time, the village approved a perpetual easement preserving a 50 x 170.78-foot strip of land running parallel to Chicago Avenue, ensuring that the property surrounding the mansion would not be subdivided. In 2005, a façade easement was added to preserve the house’s exterior features.

Old meets new

While Ikai and subsequent owners modernized kitchens and bathrooms, as well as the home’s mechanical systems, architecture buffs will be glad to hear that much of the Hales Mansion’s original features have survived. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage agent Jennifer Vande Lune, who is listing the house for $2.5 million, created a video (using a drone) to document the home’s many features (https://youtu.be/qRHMlJycxJo) and says the craftsmanship throughout the home is priceless.

“All of the woodwork is in beautiful shape,” Vande Lune said. “All of the beautiful details in the house are things you could never replicate today.”

On the first floor, many original features remain in the spacious living areas. The mosaic-tiled entryway is original, as are the leaded-glass windows, stained glass windows, Arts & Crafts light fixtures, quarter-sawn oak floor, wood-beamed ceiling, and pier mirror in the large entry hall. In the dining and living rooms, mahogany was used for ceiling beams, pocket doors, wall paneling, fireplace mantels, and built-in bookcases and hutches.

The former chapel for the Jesuits has been re-imagined as a solarium and features marble floors and cathedral-style windows to match the outdoor porches. The library’s original ceiling beams, built-in bookcases, wainscot, fireplace mantel and floors are quarter-sawn oak.

The modern kitchen was designed in the 1990s by fashion designer Ikai, and Vande Lune notes that while the room is already large, it could easily be re-envisioned by opening up the space to the rear maids’ quarters which feature a laundry area, two full bedrooms and a full bathroom.

The second-story landing offers plenty of original detail and storage fit for a family with quarter-sawn oak floors, wainscoting and molding as well as three original, built-in linen closets and three additional closets. The master bedroom measures 38 x 16 feet, and has southern, eastern and western exposure.

The second floor includes two bedrooms with a shared bath and a fourth bedroom that can serve as a second master suite with an en suite bathroom and fireplace.

The attic of the home, once used as a ballroom, has been re-designated family space. This floor includes a large family room, a fitness room, an office, two bedrooms, full bathroom and a bonus room. 

Vande Lune noted that the current owners went to great lengths to restore and maintain the home. 

“Everything they’ve done, they’ve kept to the tone of the original home,” she said. “Former owners took out a lot of original items and stored them in the basement, so these owners were able to use materials original to the home in their work.”

Since 2004, the owners have planted 36 trees on the property, tuck-pointed the home, converted windows to doors to gain access to exterior porches, upgraded electrical work, restored the tile roof, restored and repaired copper gutters and downspouts, restored the porte cochere and porches and added a four-car garage, complete with car lift.

Today, the Hales Mansion captivates everyone who drives or walks by the home with its castle-like presence and a park-like lot. While she touts the beauty of the quiet suburban setting that is just blocks from downtown Oak Park and transportation to the city, Vande Lune is one of countless people whose childhood memories of the house are not related to its stunning architecture.

“I grew up about five blocks from here,” she recalled, “and everyone called it the balloon house.”

For decades, father and son duo Angelo and Carmen Pistilli sold helium-filled balloons on the corner of Oak Park and Chicago avenues, and today a plaque recognizes the role they played in the lives of countless children. 

Whatever name you prefer, mansion or balloon house, 509 N. Oak Park Ave. remains an integral part of the Oak Park landscape.

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