After moving into the main residence of the Coonley Estate in 2000 Dean Eastman got to know Carolyn Howlett, who lived in the estate’s original coach house. He and his wife, Ella Mae, attended birthday parties for her.
He knew that Carolyn Howlett and her husband Jim were largely responsibility for saving the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Riverside landmark in 1951, when a developer proposed tearing down the entire estate and building ranch houses. He also knew how much Howlett loved living in her home and how important the Coonley estate was to her. He knew how badly she wanted to stay in the home that she has lived in since 1953.
So when the Cook County Public Guardian’s office, which has handled Carolyn Howlett’s affairs since 2004, created an uproar with a proposal to replace the Coonley Coach House’s leaking red clay tile roof with a ordinary modern asphalt shingle replacement roof, Eastman decided to step forward. Eastman and the public guardian’s office came up with a solution that has left everyone happy and keeps Carolyn Howlett is the house that she has loved for so long..
“We’ve know Carolyn pretty well,” said Eastman. “She really wanted to stay in her house until she died.”
Now she will be able to just that?”soon with a roof that doesn’t leak.
Last Friday, Judge Mary Ellen Coghlan enthusiastically approved the proposed sale of the Coonley Coach House to Eastman with an attached life estate for Carolyn Howlett. The judge issued a decree for the sale of property to the office of the Cook County Public Guardian, which handles Carolyn Howlett’s financial affairs. Howlett, a 91-year-old widow suffering from
Alzheimer’s, has been a ward of the Public Guardian since 2004 when she was ruled
incapable of managing her financial affairs.
“She (Judge Coghlan) felt it was the absolute best solution,” said Kathryn Balgley, the attorney from the Public Guardian’s office who represents Howlett. “She was very happy. She has handled Carolyn Howlett’s case from the beginning and knew how important it was to her to stay in her house.”
Under the agreement, Eastman, who has lived in the main residence of the Coonley estate since 2000 will purchase the coach house and grant Carolyn Howlett a life estate. A life estate is the legal term for a limited ownership interest that allows Howlett to have the legal right to remain in her home during her lifetime. Only upon her death will Eastman have full and unfettered ownership in the coach house.
Under the agreement Eastman will become responsible for maintaining the outer portions of the home, repairing the leaking clay tile roof and paying property taxes. Howlett will be responsible for all utilities Balgley said.
No date has been scheduled for the closing, but both Balgley and Dean Eastman expect it to occur very soon. Neither Eastman nor the public guardian’s office would disclose the price of the transaction.
“It’s a win for her and a win for me,” said Eastman. “I get to unite another major portion of the estate. I like Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.”
Eastman has won awards for the museum quality restoration work he has done on the main residence of the Coonley Estate.
“What he has done there is really the gold standard in private restoration of Wright property,” said Ronald Scherubel, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which helped bring the parties together.
Eastman said he plans to repair the existing roof using as many of the original tiles as possible. He is enthusiastic about the eventual possibility of reuniting more of the estate that was constructed in for Avery Coonley in 1908 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Ted Smith, a member of the Riverside Preservation Commission who has lived in another portion of the Coonley Estate for 25 years, was pleased with the transaction. “Our efforts have worked out,” said Smith. “It’s the best of all possible worlds.”