It’s the rare Oak Park house that has not gone through some updating in its history. While 1125 Wisconsin Ave. is not a pure exception to that rule — its kitchen appears to have been updated sometime during the 1970s — the remainder of the house stands as a testament to an earlier era when Oak Parker’s kept a horse or two out back and the entire family shared one bathroom.
Filled with lovely stained glass, wood ceiling beams and newel posts topped with globe light fixtures, the old dame also sports a leaky pipe, an odd back addition and untold conditions that might not meet today’s building codes.
Maggie Downs’ parents owned the home for 52 years and raised four children there. Downs recalls hearing a lot about the history of the home growing up. When her parents purchased the home in 1965, they were the third or fourth owners and were told that the house was built in 1908 by a couple who owned a race track at Desplaines Avenue and Roosevelt Road.
The home’s original barn, still standing, could hold two carriages and three horses. The stable boy’s room and hay loft were on the second story of the carriage house. Although the village required that her parents seal the back barn doors when they put in the alley in the 1960s, the remainder of the barn still looks much as it did when the house was built.
One of three original homes on the block, each with a carriage house, 1125 Wisconsin Ave. originally was surrounded by elaborate gardens on the two lots to the north and one lot to the south. Downs says the north lots were sold off fairly early in the home’s history, but the lot to the south was sold just a few years before her parents bought the house. Her parents’ garden still included some original beds of tulips that bloomed in the spring.
Downs says that growing up sharing the one original bathroom with three siblings and her parents wasn’t always ideal, but when the home was built, it was the height of updated style and spaciousness with indoor plumbing and room for two servants, who lived in the attic, and a butler, who lived in the basement.
While saying that the interior of the home needs a lot of work, Downs says, “all things considered, it’s still in good shape.”
The front entry includes original stained-glass windows, built-in cabinetry, a beamed ceiling and fireplace. Original pocket doors, a soaring staircase with lights in the newel posts, and wood-beam ceilings are testament to the wealth of the original owners.
When Downs’ parents were ready to downsize, they listed the house with Roz Byrne of Re/Max in the Village for $375,000. Byrne sold the house “as-is” and received multiple offers, all from rehabbers.
Marketing a flip
Byrne says it’s not unusual to find a home that’s been in the family for 50 or more years.
“I specialize in selling the homes of retirees,” Byrne said. “Probably about 30 percent are in this condition.
“It’s important to say what it is and show what it is. You need to be honest and upfront. There’s no point in getting people in the house and being surprised by an inspection.”
She used photos in the listing to both play up the home’s amazing original features as well as its flaws. A photo of a hole in the dining room ceiling displays the water damage caused by the leaking sink in the upstairs bath. Byrne’s listing also called the home a rehabber’s special, and notes that a two-story addition would transform the house and be appropriate on the large lot.
Michael Nowicki, a real estate agent with Oak Park’s Gloor Realty said the home would appeal to area rehabbers.
“Buyers in the neighborhood are paying top dollar for newly built or rehabbed homes, with a newly constructed house across the street selling recently in the $900,000 range,” Nowicki said.
By listing the house at $375,000, Byrne acknowledged that a lot of work would need to be done to prepare the house for the next buyer.
Noting that the house is not a weekend warrior project, Nowicki thinks that the right rehabber would be able to tackle all of the mechanical and exterior issues as well as the addition necessary to enlarge the kitchen and bedrooms to make them more appealing to today’s buyer.
Although the south side of Oak Park has been rife with tear-downs over the past few years, Byrne does not think the successful bidder intends to tear the house down and start from scratch.
“Of the five bidders, they were mainly rehabbers who were local,” Byrne said. “They understand the integrity of a house like this.”
Nowicki said it is unusual to find so many original features remaining in a home, from the stables in the back to the stained-glass windows and elaborate woodwork throughout.
“The fact that this stuff is still intact is amazing,” Nowicki said. “It would be a real shame to take it out. This kind of character is the kind of thing that would keep the house from being torn down.”
Downs hopes that the rehabber who purchased the home will maintain some of the sense of history of the home and create a place for another family to make happy memories.
This is the first time since the 1890s that no one from her family has lived in Oak Park, and while the move is bittersweet, her family has great memories of their decades in the home.
She recalls that there were many places to hide in games of hide and seek and that her parents hid jelly beans in the intricate woodwork every year at Easter.
“It was a great house to grow up in,” Downs said.