Oak Park home channels Downtown Abbey

Tudor retains glimpse of time when servants lived in grand estates

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

On the popular television show "Downton Abbey," in which a large English manor house features prominently, viewers reveled in the contrast between the upstairs and downstairs lifestyles. 

Titles and land conveyances may not play a role in property ownership across the pond in villages like Oak Park, but some of the larger homes were built in an era in which the owners depended on servants to keep the home running. 

Many of the vestiges of the servant class in Oak Park's estate homes have been erased over time, but in a home that recently hit the market, the signs of the past have been remarkably preserved, both upstairs and downstairs. 

Listed by Kathy and Tony Iwersen of @properties for $1,585,000, 420 N. Euclid Ave. in Oak Park was designed for a different age and time, and as updated, offers an unrivalled opportunity to live in a piece of history.

Built in 1912 for Charles Ward Seabury, the 6,500-square-foot Tudor home has an all-American pedigree reflecting the industrial era of private wealth as well as architectural pedigree. 

Seabury was born in 1876 in Peoria and attended the school then known as Oak Park High School and later the University of Michigan. In 1896, he began to work in the fire insurance business in Chicago; the firm that still exists today as March & McLennan. In 1909, he married Louise Lovett.

When looking for an architect to design their home in Oak Park, the Seaburys did not have to look far. They hired local architect and author Charles White Jr. to design the eight bedroom five bath home. 

White, who had worked in Frank Lloyd Wright's studio from 1903 to 1905, was the son-in-law of Charles E. Roberts, who resided just down the street from the Seaburys' new home, at the Burnham and Root-designed home at 321 N. Euclid Ave. White and his wife, Alice, lived for periods of time in the Euclid Avenue residence with her parents, making White's commute from home to the worksite easy during the design of the Seabury home.

Charles and Louise Seabury were active in the community. Louise signed the first lease for the Oak Park Economy Shop and Charles founded the Children's Zoo at Brookfield Zoo. 

In 1947, the pair established the Seabury Foundation, a still extant charitable foundation that originally focused on "major cultural and civic institutions in Chicago, education opportunities for those who could not afford them, conservation of animals and their habitats, ground-breaking medical techniques, health care for the poor and recreational and character-building opportunities for city children."


1912 style, 2017 amenities

As befitting a young executive, the Seabury home was built with an abundance of wood and art glass, multiple bathrooms, a billiards room and separate spaces for the live-in servants who would have kept the household running. 

The first floor library boasts original built-in cabinetry, a beamed ceiling and diamond-paned windows. In the formal living room, more diamond-paned windows and a limestone mantle are original to the home. 

The dining room retains the original wainscoting. A striking, intricately-paneled stair leads up from the entry foyer to the second and third floors, with a balcony on the second floor landing that looks over the lot.

For those who would have helped the Seabury family with the day-to-day tasks of keeping a house, the home boasted plenty of space. The sizeable butler's pantry includes the original cast-iron plate warmer concealed in the cabinets.  

A room that today serves as a breakfast room, is marked as the "maids' sitting room" on the original blueprints of the home. The rear of the house was the servants' domain when the home was first conceived, and the rear staircase offers access from the maids' sitting room up to the upper floors of the home. 

On the second story, a master suite includes multiple rooms. In the main master bedroom, a fireplace centers the seating area, and a linen closet and large closet offer plenty of storage in the main room. 

Two smaller closets, marked "hat closets" on the original blueprints, illustrate the fashions of the time. What was a separate sleeping porch is now a sitting room. The master bath includes the original bathtub that has been re-glazed, and new, period appropriate sink and toilet.

Tony Iwersen notes that while the original tile and bathtubs were maintained throughout all of the houses five bathrooms, all of the plumbing throughout the house has been updated to copper lines, and the toilets and sinks are new. 

The second floor includes three more bedrooms, many with original built-in cabinetry, a shared hall bathroom, and a second floor laundry room and bathroom combination.

According to Kathy Iwersen, the third floor was originally all servants' quarters. The original staff phone still hangs in the hallway, and there are four bedrooms and two full bathrooms. The fourth bedroom is marked on the original blueprints as the "trunk room," a reminder that the original owners would have had the means to travel extensively.

In the basement, an art deco fireplace warms the room once used as a billiards room. The original laundry area still includes an original servants' phone, three original laundry sinks and a wringer, as well as updated laundry facilities.

While Downton Abbey might have boasted untold acres of land, befitting English royalty, here in the western suburbs, property is measured in blocks. As one of only three homes on the east side of the 400 block of North Euclid Avenue, the home sits on a 200-foot lot with a circular driveway and expansive yard. 

The current owners, only the second owners of the home, are ready to move on, and the Iwersens think that the home's historic charm, completely updated systems and unmatched location will draw the next generation of caretakers to the house.

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