The house at 78 Pine Ave. (above) has been much altered since it was built as the Wesencraft family farm residence in 1855.

Is new life about to be breathed into Riverside’s oldest home? Whether or not we’ll be able to tell much from any improvements done to the exterior, which at this point look to be modest, the interior of the building at 78 Pine Ave. is in for a complete overhaul, according to the architect hired by the home’s new owner.

Despite its heavily altered state and the fact that it’s nearly invisible from Pine Avenue due to a tangle of overgrowth surrounding it, the home at 78 Pine Ave. is a local landmark.

Built by William and Jane Wesencraft around 1855, the building predates Riverside’s founding. The Wesencrafts sold a portion of their 26.5-acre property to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in 1862 to allow for the railroad’s construction through the area, but their land was not part of the Riverside Improvement Company’s 1869 plan of the village.

Originally, the cottage was decorated in Victorian gothic gingerbread (as seen above) and stood among a stand of pine trees, planted by the family, that gave the street its name. (Courtesy of the Riverside Historical Commission)

When the Wesencraft family finally did subdivide the property bounded by the Des Plaines River, East Avenue, Forest Avenue and the railroad right-of-way in 1889, the house was moved a short distance to its present location. 

It remained in the Wesencraft family, according to records maintained by the Riverside Historical Commission, until 1934, when it was sold after the death of the Wesencrafts’ daughter, Charlotte, in 1933.

The 1936 publication “Riverside Then and Now” states that the home was converted into four apartments in that year, and it has been a rental property ever since, substantially altered and maintaining none of the Victorian gothic gingerbread that once adorned its steeply pitched gables.

The building was purchased for $221,000 on June 15, according to online real estate records. Haobo Song, a suburban real estate broker, is the new owner. The prior owner, the late George Hurst, had owned the building since at least 1955, the earliest year his name appears at that address in a Riverside phone directory.

Ricardo Garcia, the architect hired by Song to redesign the interior layout, said the building still retains some historic elements, like fireplaces (which will remain decorative) and a main staircase, which will be retained.

The Wesencraft House as photographed for the 1912 publication “Book of the Western Suburbs” by Marian Ainsworth White.

“We’re going to gut it, but cautiously, because it’s kind of like Pandora’s Box,” said Garcia of renovating buildings more than a century old. “They’re not always built in the way houses are built now. There are a lot of unknowns because they’re covered with lath and plaster.”

As reconfigured, the main floor will house two three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments with open living/dining/kitchen plans. Upstairs will be three smaller units, two one-bedroom, one bathroom apartments and one two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment.

In addition, Song intends to replace the building’s mechanical systems, installing zoned central heating and air conditioning and replacing the radiant heat that exists in the building now.

The building is currently vacant, Garcia said, and the hope is for the interior renovation to be wrapped up and the units ready for occupancy in early spring 2022.

As for the exterior, which is clad in siding that dates probably to the mid-20th century, not much will be done at this time apart from some cosmetic repairs and painting.

“Maybe there will be a phase two, where also something can be done to the exterior,” Garcia said.

It does appear that some of the heavy overgrowth that obscures the property will be removed or cut back. Garcia said the plan does call for cleaning up the landscape and planting some perennial borders.

“The shrubbery is being taken down,” Garcia said. “That’ll be a plus for anyone living there.”