One House Saved - 1305 Rosedale
By: Kathy Gemperle
The phone call came to the Edgewater Historical Society from a realtor who had been contacted by the lawyer for the owner, Frances Posner. It seems that Frances was moved to a nursing home in the Spring of 2002. She had expressed the desire to donate her home to the Society but that was not feasible since she needed funds to pay for the nursing care. The next option was to give the sale of the contents to the Society. We said yes, not realizing how much work was ahead of us.
The clean out began in June with a walk through of the old and treasured house. It had been built in 1908 by a doctor. The Posner family moved there in 1919. In the 1940s, Frances’ older sister Helen had it altered to be a two flat. When Frances lived there alone she used parts of the house. The front parlor has been closed off from the dining room and the dining room had been made into a bedroom for Helen. A small kitchen had been reconfigured so that there would be a full bath on the first floor. Frances only used the parlor for guests. On the second floor the large front bedroom became Frances’ living room. One small bedroom had been made into a kitchen and the other bedroom was Frances’. It was a tiny two flat. The building measured 25’x27’. When Pam Ball and I measured it out we said “teardown.” Now the problem was not just how to empty out the house but how to save it from demolition.
All through the month of July we worked on cleaning out the house. Some volunteers came to look over some of the special collections like books and jewelry. Frances had been a librarian so there were lots of collections neatly gathered in plastic bags. We sorted through them and saved important papers and documents. We found that Frances had labeled many of the interesting objects in her collections like her father’s shaving brush. She even wrote dedication notes on the title pages of the books. We set these aside for the Historical Society. We went through everything. Then we set up the date for the sale. It was August 24, 2002. Pam got the permits and wrote the classified ads. We sent out flyers hoping that people in the neighborhood would come.
When the day came and we thought we were ready to go we found to our surprise that the WBEZ program, This American Life wanted to walk around and interview people about the sale. Although they spent three hours there watching the sale and talking to people the only part that was broadcast was the interview with me. There was so much stuff left over at the end that we decided to run the sale another day. We sold more of the big items and then tried to stack the remains in the living room for removal later.
In the meantime Pam Ball created the listing and began showing the house. Ultimately there were three offers and Frances Posner decided to accept the offer of Prairie Dog Development LLC, the development arm of Greene and Proppe Design because she knew that they would restore the house. When we finally removed the furniture all that remained was the mini pianette on the second floor. After Prairie Dog Development, PDD purchased the house we went back to photograph some before pictures of the house. Thom Greene and Nadeen Kieren decided to tackle the attic and found more photos of Frances and her family standing in front of the house and in the yard. The attic was like another archival site with more and more layers of documents and photos. Perhaps the biggest mystery was the story that Frances told us about a gun that her father had from the time he was a trader in Indian goods in the Nebraska territory. He had brought the gun to Chicago and to this house where Frances found it. This prompted a big discussion Frances was told it was put away in the attic. It was not found in our search.
The construction crew went in and began the demolition. It was extensive because the walls needed to be reconfigured on both floors in order to turn it into a single family home. Because of its small footprint plans were also made to extend the back of the house to accommodate a larger kitchen and a master bedroom suite. This house would move from the early 20th century to the 21st century. It would take 6 months.
In the demolition phase of construction the walls the front hall was opened up. The handrail for the staircase had been hidden but it turned out to be just the newel post. The original stained glass by the staircase was retained as was the original front door. All the woodwork was painted with many layers of paint and so was discarded after an evaluation of its quality and condition. The original fire place had been painted over tile which was in poor condition so it was determined that a new fireplace would be installed. With the wall removed between the living room and dining room it was evident how it had been closed up. PDD created an open space that flowed from room to room. What had once been the kitchen was turned into an office or storeroom (it was tiny) The new kitchen was added to the back of the house. The floors were preserved and matched wherever the walls were moved. Perhaps the most dramatic change was the relocation of the basement staircase from the front hall to the kitchen at the back as part of the rear entrance. A recreation room was added below the kitchen.
On the second floor the front bedroom was made smaller to accommodate a hallway to the attic. The second floor had one other bedroom and then the added master bedroom and bath.
The attic was partially finished with openings for plumbing and walls. Skylights were installed. All in all the space was magnificent with a wonderful blend of old and new.
GPD had an open house on September 7, 2003 and many of the members of the Edgewater Historical Society who had worked on the house sale returned to see the new space. Despite having spent a day in the old house working on the sale it was difficult to understand how the transformation had happened. It looked nothing short of a miracle.
What made this house a potential teardown was the poor condition of the interior and the small footprint of the building. These are not the only contributing factors to teardowns. In many cases the zoning will be an enticement for a developer to tear down an historic home. Can a larger building be put on the land so the developer can make more money? Where the area has been rezoned to R3 (single family homes and two flats) the benefit can be a much larger and new building. But this project at 1305 Rosedale shows that an old and worn down building can have a new life with the addition of quality and historically sensitive design. Why throw out the history when it can be saved and renewed?
As a footnote to this happy story, Frances Posner was pleased that GPD worked on her house and when she saw the photos she was thrilled to see how beautiful it had become.