When it comes to making a Riverside house a local landmark, homeowners haven’t been exactly in a hurry to do so, at least in the past couple of decades. The two buildings most recently designated as local landmarks – back in 2007 — weren’t single-family homes at all. They were the commercial building that houses Riverside Plumbing and the impressive courtyard condo building at 65-69-73 Longcommon Road.
On Nov. 18, however, the Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to designate the single-family home at 214 Scottswood Road as Riverside Landmark No. 71, capping a two-year process that saw the application vetted by both the Riverside Historical Commission and Preservation Commission.
“Whenever I bring it up, the first question I get is, ‘What’s in it for you?’” said homeowner Patrick Smith-Ray, who with his wife bought the shingle-style Victorian in 2015. “I’m a big history buff and I’m always talking up historic preservation, so this was an opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth is.”
Smith-Ray dove headfirst into researching the home’s past and said he and his wife determined early on that they’d seek landmark status for the home.
“This house was one of the few on the block never to have had an addition put on it,” said Smith-Ray.
While the Smith-Rays did intend to do just that, they made sure it would blend sympathetically onto the rear of the original home, using original limestone from the foundation as a veneer over the concrete of the new extension and having cedar shingles specially made by a California company using old-growth cedar that matched the home’s cladding.
“We wanted to make sure it was in keeping with the architecture,” Smith-Ray said. “It was a painstaking process. We were very careful how [the rear addition] was designed.”
Smith-Ray’s research into the home also revealed that while it wasn’t built until about 1892, the land originally was part of a large estate owned by John Asaph Rice, a prominent hotelier, who owned and managed The Sherman House and Tremont House hotels in Chicago.
Rice was also a business partner of David Gage, a director of the Riverside Improvement Company and the Chicago city treasurer whose expansive suburban farm was chosen as Riverside’s location.
“The Rice family built a mansion here around 1870, 1872,” Smith-Ray said. “A lot of the early turmoil of Riverside financially [Rice] was part of.”
Rice served as a village trustee and his personal library of some 2,600 volumes was notable enough that the New York World published a story in 1870 when it was auctioned off. Rice was also listed as one of Gage’s “bondsmen,” who were embroiled in a lawsuit that sought repayment of more than $500,000 that Gage allegedly embezzled from the city to invest in the Riverside venture.
Rice died in 1888 and his wife, Margaret, died in 1890, at which time the Rice estate was subdivided and parceled out to their three children, who each built a house. The original mansion was demolished and just two of the three homes his children built survive.
The one now occupied by the Smith-Rays was owned by Wallace deGroot Cecil Rice, a notable Chicago attorney and journalist best known for designing the iconic flag of Chicago in 1917.
At almost every turn I was astonished,” said Smith-Ray of the history of the property’s ownership.
It’s unclear if or how long Wallace lived in the home, said Smith-Ray, but his son lived in the home into the 1940s.
Not too long after moving to Riverside, Smith-Ray visited the Riverside History Museum and in 2016 was appointed to the Riverside Historical Commission, on which he still serves.
Although his landmark application had to pass through that commission as part of the process, Smith-Ray recused himself from the deliberations. The Preservation Commission gave its blessing to landmarking Smith-Ray’s home in October.