Housewalk to feature 'most intact Victorian' in Oak Park

More than just a glimpse

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Participants at this year's annual Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest's housewalk will get it all.

On April 21, the historical society's Glimpses of Oak Park: Then and Now housewalk, will offer a peak into seven historic Oak Park homes, highlighting the dwellings as they are and as they were when they were first built.

Historical Society President Kelli Kline says there is a diverse selection of homes on this year's tour.

"We have four homes that are classified as Victorian and three that are classified as Arts and Crafts Style," she explains. "One of the homes, the John Seaman Home, is open to the public for the first time. The historical society considers it the most intact Victorian in the area.

"We also have several houses that are an eclectic mix. The historical society wants people to see how people live today in these historical houses."

Kline and her husband Tom have worked tirelessly over the past decade to restore their 1887 Queen Anne Victorian on Grove Avenue. Using old photos of their home's interior and exterior, the Klines have faithfully recreated its original feel, from the front porch and Victorian era plantings in the garden to countless interior details.

"I want people to walk into my kitchen and think that it's original to the house. We have a combination of things throughout the home that are either original or antiques and have worked to bring back the period-appropriate details," says Kline. "This is the first time our home has been open to the public since all of the rooms have been completed."

Across the street from the Kline house, Elizabeth and Ed Amstutz own the John Seaman Home, designed by Fidelke and Ellis in 1894. Seaman earned his fortune in the barrel making business, and the woodwork in the house reflects the craft.

Elizabeth says it was the detailed woodwork that added to the home's appeal when they purchased it in 2006.

"Part of the reason we fell in love with the house was the woodwork. It has never been painted, and each room features a different type of wood. The builders matched the wood on the pocket doors to the room which the door faced."

The 18-room home's construction was documented in an 1895 issue of the Oak Park Vindicator. The article mentions the home cost an eye-opening $17,000 to build at the time. It also details the wood used in each room from the curly beach in the front living room, white oak in the dining room, mahogany in the library, butternut in the sewing room and Georgia pine in the kitchen. The detailed millwork atop the windows in each room includes a carved wreath design that is used throughout the home.

Kline notes that the Classical Revival Style home was influenced by the 1893 World's Fair.

"When the home was built it was painted all white on the outside, like the buildings in the Columbian Exposition. The wreath designs and the ionic columns throughout are also harbingers of the Classical Revival Style."

The library houses one of six original fireplaces and mantles. Mahogany built-in bookcases and a stained glass window featuring the lamps of knowledge with stacks of books are clues to the room's original use. The impressive dining room also features original built-in cabinetry, millwork with ribbon and shield motifs and painted murals with a fruit theme. Throughout the first floor, three of the ceilings still wear their original painted canvas designs.

Perhaps most unusual for a home of this magnitude are the 19th century finishes that remain in the kitchen. Although subsequent owners modernized the space, much original detail was left behind. The built-in ice box on one wall now functions as storage for the Amstutz family, while the servant's entrance at the rear still bears the door the iceman used to fill it. The new range is set in the cove made for the original oven and still sports the glazed brick tile from the home's first construction.

"This is one of those houses that people walk by and love to look at," says Kline of the Seaman Home. "They are captivated by its size.

"This year, we have a really nice mix of homes within four blocks of each other."

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Reader Comments

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Connie Henderson-Damon from Oak Park  

Posted: April 14th, 2012 4:43 PM

Mr. Stewart: Thank you for the love and care that you gave to the house when you are the owner. The house is truly a treasure! I am the Co-House Captain of this house for the House Walk. It has been a pleasure to meet the owners, see the home and do research on its past. Thank you for being such a wonderful steward of this lovely home!

Kelli Camburn Kline from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 14th, 2012 10:50 AM

I am so glad to see the comments, I hope many people come to see the house because it is a true treasure in Oak Park. The HS is so excited to be able to showcase it thanks to the owners. Warren, hope all is well in sunny FL, you are a big part of why this house is so fabulous. It is amazing it has not really changed in over 100 years thanks to owners like you that truly appreciated its history and glory! I live next door and remember the last renter-Dave or as the family after Warren called him Santa Claus. He always helped my with my snow blower!!! Hope to see many people out on the 21st, lots of great houses!

Sandra Wilcoxon from Oak Park  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 7:33 PM

I remember the old murals and painted ceilings in the house back when Warren owned it--I hope some of them are still there. Everyone should go see the home on the tour--it's amazing.

Karen Forrester from Evans, GA  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:03 PM

We used to live across from that house. It won some big national award when Stewart redid it, and we heard actor Don Ameche used to rent a room there. Also, funny man Jim Bjork lived there for 40 or 50 years. He was the nicest man, and a fixture on Oak Park Ave. I think he was a famous painter too. Everyone used to call him "Father" in the neighborhood. He would have to be 100 years old now, does anyone know what happened to him?

Warren Stewart from Florida  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 12:21 PM

Hi Dan, I'm flattered you remember me! Yes, I was a young man in my 20's when I started restoring the house on Grove. Getting to know the rooming house tenants instantly changed my perception of what a SRO is. Most were very honorable men in their 60's, 70's, even 80's, so it was enriching to listen to their stories. All of them had been deeply scarred by the Depression, and I think living in one furnished room with no ties, made them feel safe, and less exposed to unsavory monetary attacks.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 8:15 AM

Warren Stewart. Good to see your name on the comment board. You did great things to that house and the way you let the old gentlemen gradually depart the rooming house as you gradually restored the house to its glory was very gracious. Are you living in Florida?

Warren Stewart from Florida  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 7:54 AM

I owned this house from 1986 to 1993. It had been used as an orphanage and rooming house since the 20's (following the last time Wall Street screwed us). When I bought it the house was covered with asphalt siding, and had a pay phone in the hallway! Great House!

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