River Forest charmer

Historic Keystone Avenue home has architecture and fame

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Houses in River Forest and Oak Park have been selling like hotcakes this summer. The surge in activity might be due in part to city dwellers fleeing pandemic restrictions in search of a lawn and room to work from home. 

Historically low interest rates are probably playing a role as well, but there are certain homes that barely make it onto the Multiple Listing Service before there is a flood of interest and requests for appointments. 

One such house, recently hit the market and was quickly snapped up. Coldwell Banker realtor Kirstin Gloor says she is not surprised. She says of her listing at 551 Keystone Ave., "It's one of those special houses."


Historic connections

Built in 1881, the house is fronted with a porch boasting a wooden ceiling, brick flooring and decorative arches. The living room includes a period fireplace. Not original to the house, the mantle is attributed to architect Louis Sullivan.

The house also has a connection to local legend. Ernest Hemingway's mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, used the studio above the garage as an art studio when she lived in the home from 1936 to 1951. Gloor says that Grace Hemingway's evolution as a painter is inspirational.

"She was such a dynamic woman," Gloor said, noting that Grace trained as operatic singer and composer and took up painting at the age of 52. 

While Ernest was living in Paris with his wife and son in 1926, Grace wrote to him about an early exhibit of her work at Marshall Field's Department Store. After her husband Clarence's death, it is said that Grace used the proceeds from sales of her paintings to pay the taxes on her Oak Park home on Kenilworth Avenue.


Camera ready

While 551 Keystone Ave. maintains its original charms, it has been updated over the years by each family who called it home. 

"Every family who has owned it has taken such loving care of the house," Gloor said. "Each family has honored the history but updated it for the times."

Gloor says that the sellers, who listed the house with her for $899,000, gutted and rehabbed the kitchen, and the family who lived there before them redid the bathrooms. 

"The next family can put their stamp on it," Gloor said.

Whatever the updates have been, they have been enough to draw the interest of film location scouts. Gloor notes that the seller had more than 10 ad campaigns filmed in the house, including commercials for Pam, Kmart and Lurie Children's Hospital. 

Gloor says the appeal is obvious when you enter.

"The first floor has 11-foot ceilings, and there's a lot of natural light pouring in," she said. "It's great for the cameras."

The home lives large with four bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, the garage studio and a deep screened-in porch at the rear of the house. Gloor says the sellers frequently entertained 40 to 50 guests. 

While large parties might be on hold for a while, Gloor says the house is just what buyers are looking for today. She thinks that many more families might be seeking to leave the city for a suburban home due to recent shelter-in-place guidelines. 

"People are looking for the backyard and more space to spread out," Gloor said. "Houses with pools are more popular than ever."

She also notes that the low interest rates on mortgages are motivating many people to accelerate their buying plans because, she said, "You can get so much more for your money."

Gloor says at the end of the day, the overall community is a big draw, as is its location close to but away from the city. 

"One of the reasons real estate in Oak Park and River Forest is booming is because people love the proximity to the city," she said. "You're close to two major airports, and you can easily get to the West Loop and the Fulton Market District. It's a village feel in an urban environment."

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