By Bob Uphues
One of Riverside's most historic homes, the picturesque Swiss-style cottage at 100 Fairbank Road, designed by Calvert Vaux and built around 1870, has new owners at long last.
On and off the market since 2008, the property just couldn't find the right buyer – until July.
"We saw it on a Sunday and made an offer in 24 to 48 hours," said Kapil Khanna, a Chicago architect who, with his wife, purchased the home on July 29 for $560,000.
The couple, who have two small children and were looking to decamp from the city as their oldest reached school age, had been searching for homes in Oak Park and River Forest.
Being an architect himself, Khanna knew about Riverside and its connection to Olmsted and Vaux, who were hired in 1869 to design the village's plan. The listing for 100 Fairbank Road popped up during their search and they decided to have a look.
"We were blown away with the house and fell in love immediately," said Khanna, who is president of The Lamar Johnson Collaborative, an architecture firm in the Loop. "It was just what we were looking for, not only the historical significance, but the scale of the house and how one arrives at it is amazing and special."
The cottage was built as a country retreat for John C. Dore, Chicago's first superintendent of schools, president of the Chicago Board of Trade and an Illinois state senator.
That Vaux himself was the architect says something about how special the site was. The view from the north-facing home is now blocked by heavy overgrowth on the bank of Swan Pond Park, but the vista when the house was built would have taken in the park and the bend in the river as well as the train station, water tower and the Riverside Hotel and refectory.
Second-floor balconies on the north, east and west facades of the home would have provided splendid views of the downtown, the river and Scottswood Common, and give the house itself a picturesque, country character.
One of the reasons the home had such a tough time selling was that its original design and features remained largely intact. Despite the informal cottage exterior, the first-floor rooms are rather grand and formal.
There are four bedrooms, three of which sport original marble fireplaces, on the second floor, but only one full bathroom.
Former owners Ralph and Jane O'Donnell told village officials that the home's historic designation and limitations on how the exterior could be altered scared away buyers.
The lack of a garage – the property has a large carport/gazebo structure in the backyard – also wasn't popular with potential buyers. The house listed at more than $1 million in 2008 when it originally went on the market, but the price has fallen through the years. It was most recently listed at $599,000.
After falling for the home, Khanna said he researched its history and understood the O'Donnells' concerns. But, Khanna said he has no plans to alter the home.
"I don't have big plans for the house right now," he said. "We want to live in it, experience it and let the house talk to us a little bit."
As for the lack of a garage, that suits Khanna fine as well.
"We're not a big car family," said Khanna, who added the family has just one vehicle and that since moving into the house in August, he's been taking the train to work. "We use the carport as an outdoor living space, and in the winter we can put the car there."
Despite the home's Victorian roots, Khanna says the interior spaces mesh well with the couple's modernist/minimalist tastes.
"Even though it's different, there's something really simple about its scale, and those are values, as an architect, that are really important," Khanna said. "The way it's sited, the property itself, the location and scale is pretty amazing."
The O'Donnells gifted the new owners a box containing artifacts related to the home, ones they were given when the bought the home back in 1992.
"I'm grateful a young family wound up buying it," said Ralph O'Donnell. "Hopefully, they'll enjoy it as much as we did."