A home in Oak Park is hitting the market as its owners of the past 44 years prepare to move on from a lifetime of restoration and preservation. Bess and Jim Pabin are also rather private people, so while their grand home has a fascinating history, the house has never been open to the public on historic housewalks. The Pabins researched the house themselves, and they stumbled upon a treasure trove just waiting to be discovered.
When Jim first saw the house at 403 N. Grove Ave., he told Bess before they even stepped off the curb that the house would be theirs.
“I knew when I first saw it,” he said.
Bess’ father, however, was not so sure that the couple should move into the rambling three-flat that spanned over 4,000 square feet. Bess recalls her father burst into tears when he saw it and told her she didn’t have to move into the house, which was in need of some maintenance.
The couple threw caution to the wind and relied on Jim’s expertise as an architect as they set out to convert the house into their family home.
While Jim restored the home one room at a time, Bess turned to the library and public records to delve into the home’s history. She found the name of the first owners, located descendants now living in another state, and began a correspondence that included the sharing of historic photos and at least one visit back to Oak Park.
“There were over 60 of them that came back to Oak Park to see the house — four generations,” Jim said.
The large family were descendants of the first owner of the home, Albert H. Standish, a direct descendant of Myles Standish, who arrived in America on the Mayflower. Albert Standish, a Civil War veteran from Michigan, purchased the land on Grove Avenue from John Schmidt in 1885 for $1,160.
Family letters state that Albert Standish was both a lawyer and a lumber business owner. The wood from which the house was constructed was said to come from his property in Michigan and was handpicked for the house.
The Victorian home features many hallmarks of the day, including hand-carved woodwork, colorful stained-glass windows and pocket doors. Albert and his first wife, Carrie Hubbard Standish, lived in the house with their seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood.
Carrie died in 1894, and Albert married Mary Stuart in 1898. The couple added two more children to the family. In correspondence with the Standish family, the Pabins learned that Clarence Hemingway, Ernest’s father, was the family doctor.
In 1920, Standish sold the house to Henry Traeger for the sum of $8,750. The Pabins believe that Traeger converted the home into a three-flat, turning the third-floor ballroom into a two-bedroom apartment, and converting the second floor into another apartment.
At that time, the grand first-floor staircase was walled off and the entry bisected to create a separate entrance for tenants. The house also went through an exterior makeover, changing from Victorian to Dutch colonial.
When the Pabins first purchased the home, their realtor told them the rental income from the two apartments would cover their mortgage and property taxes, and for a time, it did.
As their daughter grew up and they wanted more space, they converted the second-floor apartment into their bedrooms and kept the third-floor apartment. Over the years, they rented the third floor to young couples who became their friends and, eventually, Bess’s mother lived there.
The Pabins’ realtor, Kevin Kirby of Coldwell Banker, says the third floor is still a legal apartment and notes that it offers many possibilities.
“You could continue to rent it, use it as an Airbnb or au pair suite, or continue the de-conversion and add it to the family living space.” Kirby said.
Jim recalls removing the asphalt siding from the home and having the neighbors pull up seats to watch the clapboard siding being revealed. Over the years, he stripped paint off woodwork, turned porches into sunrooms, remodeled the kitchen and added closets to bedrooms that had none.
Through it all Jim, who calls himself a perfectionist, sought to maintain and match historic details of the house that remained. Many original details speak to the home’s past.
In the entry, a built-in cabinet for hats remains in the wall. A telephone cabinet in an upstairs hall was put in when the house was wired for its first phone.
Pocket doors between the living room and dining room are still operational, and a stunning stained-glass window with hand-carved surround graces the staircase to the second floor.
Perhaps the most exciting original detail is the front parlor’s fireplace surround. Jim restored the wood, and the original floral tiles remain surrounding the firebox. At the top are three tiles bearing the initials A.H.S. for the home’s first owner.
The Pabins are downsizing and moving to be closer to their daughter and her family. They hope that another family will enjoy the home and its history as much as they have.
Kirby is listing the house for $1,150,000. Both a realtor and a neighbor to the Pabins, Kirby notes that there probably isn’t a better location in all of Oak Park.
“You can walk to the high school. The elementary school is right around the corner, and downtown Oak Park with its restaurants and library is just a short walk,” Kirby said.
Kirby says even though he lived on the block, he didn’t know the history of the home until the Pabins shared their research, photos and records with him.
“These guys really brought this house back,” Kirby said.