2019: A Year in Homes

We talked history, landmarks, nonprofits and more

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

In 2019, the Wednesday Journal Homes section covered local housewalks from Wright Plus to the Parenthesis Kitchen Walk, featured locals who work in the housing arena and let readers visit a variety of homes and gardens in Oak Park and River Forest and surrounding suburbs without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Here's a look back at some of this year's stories.

January

In January, we took a look at a Historic Preservation Award-winning renovation in Oak Park. Homeowners Dan and Rachel Stark were just getting comfortable in the Victorian on the 400 block of South Home, when a storm felled a tree, destroying much of their front porch. 

The couple turned to the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society to research their home's past and architecture. Working with contractor Peter Thomas, they restored the porch to what it most likely looked like when the home was constructed in 1898.

 

February

During February, we covered Sister House's relocation to Oak Park. Founded in the Austin neighborhood in 1982, Sister House was originally conceived as a means of helping women make the transition from prison to life in the outside world. 

By the time the organization made the move in 2019 to the former convent of St. Catherine-St. Lucy Parish, the organization was focused on helping women break the cycle of addiction to alcohol and drugs.

March

We took a look at a coach house-turned-single-family home in March with a story on 616 Iowa St. in Oak Park. Designed in 1911 by architect Thornton Herr, the coach house was built for the original owners of the house to its east, John and Anna Nelson. 

Nelson made his living selling horse blankets. Historical Society Executive Director Frank Lipo noted that what goes around comes around in observing that there is a new trend in the village to construct large coach houses behind prominent homes.

April

In April, we looked across Austin Boulevard to celebrate the architecture of Frederick Schock. The neighborhood encompassing the Schock houses was planned by Oak Park developer Henry W. Austin, who began selling lots in the then-suburb of Chicago in the late 1800s. 

Today, the Austin Schock Historic District includes four remaining Schock-designed houses, located at 5749 and 5804 W. Race Avenue and 5804 and 5810 W. Midway Park. In 1999, the city of Chicago designated the Queen Anne and shingle-style Schock houses in Austin as historic landmarks.

May

In May, Oak Park's Maze Branch Library celebrated the return of spring with a renewed focus on its Sensory Garden. Inspired by a trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden, Children's Librarian Shelley Harris wanted to integrate the natural world into the library's programming. 

A new concrete sidewalk was poured to make the courtyard accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. The library also called on staff member Linda Miller who helped enhance sight and sound for visitors with plants of different textures, colors and scents, as well as added enhancements like wind chimes.

June

In June, we covered the conversion of Oak Park's Hales Mansion into a new home for the Language and Music School. Now known as the International Mansion, owners Maria Emilia Fermi and son Brando Crawford moved the school from its former storefront location just down the street on Oak Park Avenue. 

The mansion at 509 N. Oak Park Ave. had been on and off the market since 2006, when it was listed for $2.65 million. Fermi and Crawford purchased it in May 2019 for $1,575,000. 

The home was designed in 1903 by architect Henry G. Fiddelke for grain magnate Burton Fr. Hales and his wife, Frances. After a period of being used as housing for Jesuit priests, the house was a single-family home prior to school's purchase. With the aid of local architect Deb McQueen, Fermi and Crawford spent the summer renovating the home to prepare for a fall opening.

July

In July, we turned to neighboring Maywood to discover a Tallmadge and Watson-designed Prairie-Style bungalow. When Berwyn police officer Loren Buchmeier and his wife, Alyse, found the home in 2011, its most recent occupants had been a family of raccoons. 

As a carpenter on the side, Loren thought he had what it took to rehabilitate the house, and with the help of his father, he set about saving the home. Over seven years, the Buchmeiers worked tirelessly to restore the home, known as the Henry Akin House, which was built for one of Maywood's first mayors.

 

August

In August, we visited Sojourner House, the first dedicated bridge housing in suburban Cook County. Located on Austin Boulevard, Sojourner House contains five separate apartments, as well as a detached coach house, and bridges the gap between homeless shelters and permanent housing for vulnerable men, women, and families facing homelessness. 

A combined effort of Housing Forward, Oak Park Housing Authority, MacNeal Hospital and Oak Park Residence Corporation, the house is designed to keep families together with short-term stable housing until they can find permanent housing; to serve as an alternative to PADS shelters for people requiring accessible accommodation and to provide temporary residence for people recovering from medical treatment.

 

September

In September, we followed the case of the missing dog tag, a mystery solved by two intrepid River Forest sleuths, George Summy and Fletcher Neri, who happened upon some rusted dog tags while digging in Neri's backyard. 

With the help of Summy's mom, Carrie, the internet and the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society, the two boys learned a lot about the tag's original owner, Wayland Cedarquist, whose wife's family lived near the Neri's River Forest house when Cedarquist returned from World War II. The boys plan to return the tags to a Cedarquist relative.

October

In October, we interviewed Lee Bey, photographer and architectural critic about his new book, "Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago's South Side." 

A former Oak Park resident, Bey worked as the architecture critic for the Sun-Times, served as the deputy chief of staff for urban planning under former Mayor Richard M. Daley and currently is a senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as well as an independent consultant. 

His book delves into the architectural richness of the South Side, which Bey says can be overlooked in a city know for architectural greatness.

November

The village awarded 408 N. Kenilworth Ave. in Oak Park landmark status in November. Homeowners Myrtle and George Mason applied for historic landmark status for the place they have called home for over 50 years. With the help of architect Jack Lesniak, they uncovered an interesting architectural history before submitting their application. 

Originally designed by architects Patton and Fisher, the home was later remodeled twice by Tallmadge and Watson, making it a unique example of the styles of two notable pairs of architects.

December

In December, we rounded out the year, with a sneak peek at the Infant Welfare Society's Holiday Housewalk, a personal profile of local development stalwart Tom Gallagher, the architecture of Frank DeMoney and a Christmas lights round up.

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