For the second year in a row, the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society (IWS) is taking its Holiday Housewalk virtual. This year’s walk will feature six architecturally significant Oak Park and River Forest homes decorated for the holidays.
While the in-person walk was limited to one weekend, the video access for the virtual walk will be available Dec. 10 through Jan. 10, giving participants an entire month to take in the indoor and outdoor scenes. The IWS is also making ticket buying a little sweeter, by offering another grand raffle of $10,000.
IWS board President Debbie Blanco says that the Holiday Housewalk is an integral part of the society’s mission.
“It’s our premier fundraiser of the year,” Blanco said. “Sixty percent of the budget of the Children’s Clinic comes from philanthropy.”
The IWS Children’s Clinic serves over 3,400 children in more than 10,000 visits each year, addressing the medical, dental and behavioral care of a population in need. As the construction continues on the Children’s Clinic new home on Madison Street, that support is more important than ever.
Blanco says the Holiday Housewalk, whether in-person or virtual, is a good representation of the IWS as a charitable organization.
“Our fundraisers are ‘fun-raisers.’ Community is very important to who we are,” she said.
Sarina Butler, longtime IWS volunteer and script writer for this year’s walk, says the walk is always a highlight of the holiday season.
“Our area is so beautiful, the architecture is extremely diverse and many homes are historic,” Butler said. “Homeowners take pride in keeping their homes really lovely at holiday time. It’s a chance to see gorgeous homes with great people willing to share them for a great cause.”
This year’s homes span a variety of styles. A River Forest home built in 1927 for a mafia figure suspected of involvement in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre had seen better days when its current owners purchased it.
Working with local architect Rosanne McGrath, they enlarged the home and created an interior that complements the home’s French Provincial exterior. While the family has modernized the house for today’s style, they retained the original foyer chandelier and stair banister.
An Oak Park stunner on Forest Avenue has no known architect, but the early 20th century home holds its own among nearby Frank Lloyd Wright designs. The home is decorated with a combination of traditional and modern furnishings.
Butler says the two-story foyer features a stunning seven-foot-tall artwork composed of eleven infinity clusters made of crystal.
An E.E. Roberts-designed home on the tour has been remodeled, but Butler states, “It looks just like Roberts built it yesterday.”
The original touches include art glass windows fronting Chicago Avenue. One touch that’s not original is the renovated kitchen which can comfortably accommodate 40 guests for an annual cookie baking gathering.
In River Forest, a 126-year-old Victorian house was converted to a three-flat in the 1920s. Today’s owners have returned it to a single-family home. An exterior renovation in 2010 was followed by an interior remodel in 2014 which created a modernized kitchen that suits the original era of the home.
The final River Forest home was built in 1901 and designed by architect Charles Lowry for his son and namesake. The home was remodeled early in its life, and its art glass tells the story.
The original art glass features curved lines and rounded shapes while the glass installed during the renovation is more linear and modern. The current owners love to cook and highlight their Mediterranean heritage. Butler says their kitchen with its built-in, open pantry celebrates the family’s rich food heritage.
While all of this year’s homes are architecturally significant, Butler says the most well-known is Oak Park’s Arthur Heurtley House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902 and considered to be his first Prairie Style home. This year, the house will be professionally decorated by Forest Park’s Moss, and Butler says the natural theme will complement Wright’s Prairie design.
“They really are committed to the aesthetic of the house,” Butler said. “Even among Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, it’s unique. It’s so impressive, and this is the first time people will see it decorated for Christmas.”
Butler says that when COVID forced the housewalk to move to a virtual format, the IWS volunteers were a bit nervous about turnout. There was no need to be concerned. The 2020 walk raised more money than the pre-pandemic, in-person walk in 2019. Butler is hopeful that this year’s walk will do the same in order to provide needed funds for the Children’s Clinic.
Housewalk Co-Chair Monica Klinke states, “Last year, we were looking for a temporary fix for our pandemic problem, and it turns out people loved this format. You can watch it on your own time, in your house in your pajamas or with your friends. Last year, we had people from 24 states and from as far away from France watching. We had a broader reach.”
How to take the tour
The Infant Welfare Society Virtual Holiday Housewalk and Grand Raffle tickets can be purchased at one.bidpal.net/holidayhousewalk/welcome.
Each $55 ticket includes entry to the $10,000 grand raffle. Ticket packages including more raffle tickets are available for purchase as well.
The virtual tours will be available for viewing from Dec. 10 through Jan. 10. The Grand Raffle drawing will be recorded and shared online Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.