By Lacey Sikora
Before Amazon was dropping off packages on every doorstep in the village, an early precursor in the world of delivery was doing quite well for himself in the near west Chicago suburbs.
Gustavus Babson was one of several Babson brothers who operated a mail order business in Chicago. While he was no Jeff Bezos, who is said to own at least six homes in the U.S., Babson left his architectural mark on Oak Park.
His starter home, the Gustavus Babson House I at 412 Iowa St. was designed by architectural firm Tallmadge and Watson in 1906. Babson had not had great success yet when he had the newly formed architectural partnership design his first modest home.
In order to reduce costs, the architects experimented with materials, using panels of pebbled roofing material that resembled plaster to craft the walls on the second floor, and employing relatively cheaper species of wood for the home's interior trim.
By 1912, Babson had enjoyed more financial success and turned to the now more-experienced architectural duo again to design a larger home that reflected his increased wealth.
The residence at 415 Linden Ave., known now as the Gustavus Babson House II, is an expansive, Prairie Style home that originally spanned one third of a block. A gabled roof, porte cochere, and stunning art glass front Linden Avenue, and in the rear, a sweeping lawn provides a secluded setting.
Completely restored, the house has been featured on Wright Plus and is hitting the market at $1.325 million. Though its architectural pedigree is much treasured today, it almost didn't survive the turbulent 1960s.
In a New Journal of Chicago article dated 1975, journalist Jean Guarino describes one family's pivotal efforts to save the house. In the 1960s, River Forest resident Ray Poplett had his eye on the Prairie School beauty, but someone else purchased the home.
It fell into foreclosure and was vacant for two or three years before he surprised his wife, Caroline, by purchasing the house in 1966.
Guarino quotes Caroline as saying, "The house was in a terrible state of disrepair and the village was taking steps to have it torn down. … Most of the windows were broken and vandals had set several fires in the basement. Scavengers had also managed to remove everything that wasn't nailed down, but miraculously, the elegant mirrors in the dressing room off the master bedroom were unbroken."
Along with replacing outdated wiring and plumbing, the Popletts had to deal with the aftermath of 22 burst radiators and removed two layers of asphalt tile from the kitchen's original tiled floor. The couple and their two sons also refinished hardwood floors and created an up-to-date country kitchen for the home.
While the Popletts saved the home from destruction, by the time Jennifer and Ken Goodsmith found the home in the 1990s, it was ready for another face-lift, but they could tell it was the perfect home for their growing family.
"You could say it was love at first sight when we saw 415 Linden for the first time," Jennifer Goodsmith said. "An enticing Tallmadge and Watson built on a bit of a hill with quarter sawn oak throughout, emanating character in every single room and an expansive yard, but first and foremost it felt like a place we could call home."
Real Estate agent Greer Haseman of @properties who is listing the home for sale agrees that the home makes a great first impression.
"It sits on this beautiful piece of property," Haseman said. "It's probably one of the most iconic homes in Oak Park."
The arched doors and original art glass in the airlock entry provide a gracious entry to the home. The arched doorways repeat throughout the home and are echoed in the barrel-vaulted ceilings of the living and dining rooms.
On the first floor, an original screened-in porch at the south end of the living room provides a great extension of the home into the yard. A library with original built-ins and a butler's pantry add to the charm.
The remodeled kitchen boasts a breakfast room in the original solarium to the home. With original tiles on the floor and a restored skylight in the ceiling, the octagonal breakfast room offers views of the back yard. A mezzanine level to the house includes a family room with a fireplace over the porte cochere and an office with leaded-glass windows.
On the second floor, the master bedroom has a coved ceiling and seating area. The attached dressing room still sports the original mirrors that charmed Caroline Poplett. A decorative transfer engraving was used to adorn the mirrors throughout the space. The spacious master bathroom sports the original pink and black tiles as well as two sinks, a soaking tub and a shower.
Each of the three other bedrooms on this floor includes its own en suite bathrooms. The third floor includes an additional two bedrooms, full bathroom and sitting room, making it an ideal guest or teen suite.
Goodsmith says she and her husband loved raising their three sons in the home and hosting all kinds of gatherings including family get togethers, weddings, adult and kid parties, block parties, Christmas caroling parties and neighborhood Easter egg hunts.
"We originally bought the house as we were looking for a place we could call home, but we also found a community that welcomed us with open arms," she said of the past 29 years. "We loved restoring this home to its former glory and have thoroughly enjoyed living here."
Answer Book 2018
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