Heading South on the World Wide Web

Chicago is a really big place. They were “goin’ to Chicago”, but all that meant to them in their initial dream state was Michigan Avenue and the Loop.
Meanwhile, the task before them was daunting: fixing up and marketing a 6500 square-foot historically significant home that had been enthusiastically lived in- certainly for the thirty-five years of their ownership. A punch list on the refrigerator urged them on.Punch List

Plastic St. Joseph statuettes planted strategically around the property invoked Divine assistance.
They needed all the help they could get, for a chilling wind portending economic downturn and the consequent real estate crash was at their backs. With so much to be done, there was little time for specifying the destination, but they checked the realtor sites on line every once in a while. It was not surprising to note that while residential opportunities do exist in downtown Chicago, price is commensurate with size and a condo large enough to accommodate all the stuff they couldn’t bear to part with was financially out of their league. The intention was to down-size- considerably- but they were not prepared to cut down to a one room studio. When it came to housing, they were traditional. They had restored several rather grand early 20th century houses, and thought of themselves as Historic Preservationists. Acceptable multi-unit quarters would have to be vintage. Black and white films of the ’30’s-Thin Man

“The Thin Man” series, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies- all featured settings in classy apartment buildings with spacious living and dining rooms- they were always hosting ¬†cocktail parties- and those dated Hollywood images informed their notion of life in the city. Chicago has scores of magnificent “east coast” style apartment buildings overlooking the lake, but to purchase even a modest sized place on the Gold Coast would pretty much preclude eating for the next twenty years.
The compromise under consideration, since his brother lives in a suburb west of the city, was a small older home in Aurora or Elgin. Then, they followed the Fox River north to McHenry County, where her grandmother was born. Ranch houses on Wonder Lake are a real bargain.

You can cover a lot of territory on the internet. No urgency; the grand old house had been patched and polished to a luster, priced competitively and presented to the public. They were in stasis, waiting for the able and willing party to appear. And, at last, the couple who had made a peremptory offer before the house was listed for sale; then withdrew, reappeared six months later to negotiate in earnest. This was in May, 2007, twenty months from the wedding in St. Charles when they danced on the glass ballroom floor.

Synchronicity and the weavers of Fate! Why do discrete incidents once in a while converge to redirect our lives?
Within days of re-engaging with the future owners of their big old house in Tacoma, Washington, the June issue of The Chicago Magazine was delivered to that address. The cover story: THE SOUTH LOOP: HOTTEST REAL ESTATE MARKET IN THE COUNTRY.
South of the Loop! How could that have been such a revelation? But that is precisely the motivation for this blog series. Now, it is perfectly clear that there is a lot of city south of the Loop- beautiful, historic, interesting, inhabited by a lot of beautiful, interesting people, but then it just wasn’t on their screen- and, in fact, “south” is not on the screens of many folks born and raised in Chicago who tend to think of south of the Loop as foreign territory.

Anyhow, the search on Realtor.com began in earnest. Photos from the South Loop and Bronzeville revealed many gorgeous Brownstones in the throes of the kind of restoration abhorent to historic preservationists: “gut-rehabs” down to the studs- lots of exposed brick and stainless steel. The gentrification elves seemed hard at work. While their handicrafts aren’t always or necessarily monotonously insipid, the right (or wrong) kind of marketing can propel a neighborhood to Disneyland quaintness. They looked further.
Calling up the zip-code map and following the lakeshore south, they came to 60615: Hyde Park, the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry (so that’s where it is!) and the home of the Obama family. Neat, but still a bit pricey. Next zip code: 60649.
It took her breath away.

Villa Apartments; AlfredAlschuler, architect

Fabulous Art Deco buildings, 1920’s co-ops with huge apartments; living and dining rooms open and gracious, large bedrooms with adjacent tiled baths; vintage interiors intact, with expansive lake and golf course views- living spaces that speak to refinement- (in some cases, “spoke to” in need of serious TLC) but wonderful and cheap. Many of the condos and/or co-ops on Realtor.com were priced in the low 100’s; some were even less.
They pored over the sites and put in a call to a South Shore Realtor. In a few weeks, they would be touring, among others, a European-looking, curved and sculpted condominium building on South Shore Drive.


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