Today, it’s not uncommon for houses to change hands frequently. Young residents or couples may start out with a smaller home, sizing up when kids arrive or when the kids need more space.
As older residents size down and grow weary of high property tax bills, new residents move into town to send their children to school and stay until their kids are out of the house. A house in River Forest is an exception to the short-term tenures of many recent homeowners.
The house at 7416 Oak Ave. has been in the same family for five generations. Built in 1898, the home last hit the real estate market in November 1923. For more than 100 years, it has welcomed the family’s children and sheltered the elderly in their last days at home. It has seen a lot of life.
With the passing of the last owner, her daughter, Jill Gordon, reached out to realtor Andy Sokol of The Sokol Group for advice on renting or selling the house.
“She found me on Facebook,” Sokol said. “We both had last names that started with S and were in the same A period class at OPRF back in high school.”
While they two hadn’t been in touch in years, Gordon knew Sokol would understand the area where they both grew up. Gordon would have preferred to keep the house in the family, but she is settled in another town and the rest of the family has also moved too far away to call River Forest home.
“I’ve been in the business 18 years, and you break a lot of hearts,” Sokol said. “People get emotionally tied to houses, but it doesn’t always make sense to keep them.”
When the home was last listed for sale in 1923, it was listed by realty agency G. Whittier Gale & Co. for $24,000. At the time, the home spanned a lot from Monroe to the alley between Monroe and William, and the realtor touted the farm-like setting, replete with cherry, pear and apple trees.
Gordon notes that her family owned the home at the time, but the sale fell through due to finances, so her family continued its tenure on the land, eventually selling off lots between family homes to friends of the family.
The first in her family to own the lot were Frederick and Elizabeth Gragert, who came to America from Prussia and Germany. The property appears to have been in the family prior to the house being built.
“My three times great grandfather bought [the property] from Mr. Quick, and the section of River Forest was known as the Quick subdivision,” Gordon said.
In the next generation, her great great grandfather, Frederick Schulenburg and his brother owned an ornamental plaster business with a workshop on the lot. There was no alley until another relative lobbied to have an alley to aid transport from Chicago Avenue to Lake Street for the business.
The orchards and the barn are long gone, but two trees remain from her grandparents’ time, including a catalpa and an apple tree. A few lilacs from the original hedge also survive.
Today another home fronts Monroe Avenue, but the Oak Avenue house still has a sizeable rear and side yard.
“How cool of a soccer field or hockey rink would that yard be?” Sokol said of the side yard.
Over the years, the house once heated by coal has been updated to include air conditioning and a full bathroom with laundry on the first floor of the house. Gordon says that when previous generations updated, they saved things such as wood trim and doors, and those pieces remain in the home.
In the kitchen, a walk-in pantry hosts an original kitchen cabinet that Gordon says was moved there when her grandparents remodeled the kitchen in the 1970s.
On the second floor, the front bedroom and sitting room spans the front of the house, and Sokol points out that the toile wallpaper is back in style today at high-end hotels. Three other bedrooms share a hall bathroom, and a built-in linen storage remains in the hall.
Both the walkup attic and basement are unfinished and offer opportunities for buyers looking to finish more space. While the house has been cleaned out, the basement holds the original dining room buffet and a few gems such as the cast iron feet of a now-gone claw foot tub.
Sokol is listing the home for $799,000, and Gordon hopes that another family will build a long-term relationship with the house.
“Any time anything happened, the family went back to the house,” Gordon said. “This is the place that we all went back to.”
While there’s no guarantee that the next owners will keep it in the family for 100 years, there’s plenty of room to grow some cherry, pear and apple trees if the next owners choose to do so.