In 1905, Mr. Joseph Downey purchased a corner lot and hired William Carboys Zimmerman to construct a home there at a cost of $20,000. The style of the home shows strong Prairie influence with ribbon windows, elongated roman brick and wide overhanging eaves. Originally, the driveway was along the north side of the house with a porte cochere. The home once had a terra cotta roof and was featured in 1917 ads for the Ludowici-Celadon Company in House Beautiful. A photo of the building also appeared in the prestigious Inland Architect in 1907.
The inside of the home shows the beauty of the Prairie design. The open space of the living room flows into the dining room and then into a sun porch, although the sun porch is a later addition.
No expense was spared in the creation of this interior space with mahogany woodwork in the living room and oak throughout the rest of the house. The tile floors in the hallway and dining room are glass mosaic. On the first floor, two small spaces appear to have been offices or waiting rooms. The kitchen has been altered to create two bathrooms.
The staircase, with simplified oak railings in a step design, leads to a landing where once stained glass or leaded glass windows in five panels were installed. The second floor has been altered to meet the public use needs of the community. The staircase continues to the third floor which housed the servants’ quarters and the ballroom. This is not regularly open to the public.
The Chicago Park District acquired the 3-1/2 acre site and this building after several years of community lobbying efforts. After a study of the two buildings at Berger Park, the Chicago Park District decided to keep only this building. This facility now functions as a regular park facility with art classes and a pre-school. Some of the art classes are held in the basement.
This building is not regularly open on the weekends. A special thanks to the Chicago Park District and park supervisor Jackie Mazur for welcoming us today.