Wellie Partners LLC purchased the building at 420 Marion St. in Oak Park in March for $800,000, and this winter the owner applied for zoning variances to add on to the 19th-century Victorian, which currently houses four apartment units between the main home and coach house. 

The new owners have applied to add two more units, bringing the total to six. Michael Bruce, zoning administrator for the village of Oak Park, states that the owners asked for three zoning variances requests at the Jan. 6 meeting of the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals. 

The zoning board recommended granting a request to increase the density — they want to create six units when the property is zoned for five. A second request for the interior side yard setback to be reduced to zero from 5 feet was denied, while a third request for the rear yard setback to be reduced from 15 feet to 5 feet was granted.

The application shows the owners plan to build an addition which will have parking on the first level and two levels above that, each with a dwelling unit. 

Bruce said Wellie Partners will retool their plans based on the ZBA’s recommendations. The revised plan will go to the village board for final approval of the zoning variances.

It isn’t the first time the building’s owners have planned to modernize the building. In fact, the home went through several major changes in its first 20 years.

Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, says he always admired the building. 

“It’s one of those buildings that kind of hides in plain sight,” Lipo said. “If it was on Forest or Kenilworth, we’d all know that house. But, it was built in what is now a transitional area.” 

The location, just south of Chicago Avenue on Marion Street, includes businesses, apartments and single-family homes.

Lipo goes on to note that even though the original Victorian building is beautiful and sited in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District, it might be overlooked. In spite of that, he says it’s a great example of adaptive reuse.

“It looks like a big, old, grand home that was turned into multifamily housing,” Lipo said.

A house with history

Lipo said that the original owner of the home, George Nordenholt, had his roots in mid-19th century Europe. Nordenholt was born near Bremen, Germany in 1855. His father was a mason, who died when Nordenholt was 3 years old. 

At 14, Nordenholt apprenticed to be a baker and later worked for a German ocean liner as a baker, moving to the United States in 1878. All told, he crossed the Atlantic 86 times, according to his obituary.

When Nordenholt settled in Oak Park, Lipo says that the neighborhood around Chicago and Augusta avenues was a place where many German immigrants settled, founding a Lutheran church on Augusta that was the precursor to Grace Lutheran. 

Nordenholt opened a bakery on Lake Street, east of Harlem, calling it the Oak Park Bakery. By 1889, business was booming; he purchased equipment allowing him to make 6,000 loaves of bread a day and had a plant in River Forest.

Not content to be solely a baker, he sold the bakery around 1895 and invested in the Cicero and Proviso Ice Company. In 1891, he bought a large lot at the corner of Marion and Chicago from Walter Kettlestrings for $4,000. 

A series of articles in 1894 in the Oak Park Vindicator and Oak Park Reporter detailed Nordenholt’s construction of a grand manse on the lot, fronting Chicago Avenue.

Nordenholt hired River Forest Civil War veteran and contractor Frank Thompson to design the house. By the time it was completed at the end of 1894, the total cost to construct the home was $10,000. 

Lipo says it’s not clear whether that amount includes finishes, but he points out the figure is roughly double what a typical Oak Park house would have cost at the time.

Nordenholt and his wife, Mary, moved into the home in October 1894 and both lived there until their deaths in the 1930s. By the time he passed away, Nordenholt was also a real estate investor, owning properties in River Forest, Forest Park and a second home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, next door to the Maytag family. 

His obituary states that flowers for his funeral at Grace Lutheran Church came from his Lake Geneva gardens.

Adaptive reuse

In 1913, an article in the Oak Leaves detailed Nordenholt’s change in plans for his grand manse. With his children grown and out of the house, he decided to move the house so that it fronted Marion Street, at an expense he says was nearly equal to that of building the home. 

He and Mary converted the home into two apartments, keeping one to live in themselves. After the Nordenholts died, the building has housed between two and five rental units.

 “Think of how many people have lived there since then,” Lipo said.

When the building sold in March of 2020, the listing touted the home’s original inlaid hardwood floors, built-ins, art glass and wraparound porch. 

Many of the original finishes remained in place. Today, the 6,500-square-foot main house includes three apartments and a fourth unit in the coach house.

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