A Victorian Gem in Chicago’s West Haven

The owner with his row house.

The owner with his row house.

Originally posted Spring 2010. Photos provided by Dan Delaney.

We’re very pleased to introduce you to Dan Delaney and Sean Buck, who live in the West Haven neighborhood of Chicago, not far from the United Center, home to the Bulls (NBA) and the Blackhawks (NHL). Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Northeastern Illinois.

Originally, their home was a four bedroom, one bathroom home, built in 1889. It’s one in a row of seven. At one point, the church across the street owned the property and had used the house for boarding. When they purchased the home in May 2009, the windows were boarded up and all of the electric and plumbing was original, aside from minor alterations to accommodate the boarding. After extensive restoration, it has now been returned to a traditional, four bedroom, one and a half bathroom home.

We asked Dan some questions about his home.

RowHouse: How did you find your row house?

Dan: I am a real estate agent in the city of Chicago. Sean and I have rented row houses for years and always dreamt of actually purchasing a row house of our own. We love the architectural aspects of Victorian row houses and adding our own modern decorating touches. Being in the real estate business, I would always see row houses come on to the market but they would always be beyond what Sean or I could afford. With the downturn in the market and the $8,000 tax credit, we were finally in a position to purchase. The first time we toured our current home there was no running water, no electricity, no heat, no kitchen and every window was boarded up with wood. Despite the downtrodden condition, we fell in love with it immediately! Almost a year later we have finally completed a majority of the renovation and now love adding our own special touches.

RowHouse: Since the United Center was built, your neighborhood has been undergoing a lot of development and revitalization. It’s a great location with easy access to public transportation and the expressway, as well as desirable urban amenities such as a variety of restaurants and an active nightlife. There are even stores, The European Furniture Warehouse, Milk Designs and Metalworks, to name a few, where you can buy nice things for your row house. What has been your experience living there?

The living room, looking into the entry hall.

The living room, looking into the entry hall.

Dan: Our neighborhood is actually just starting to be revitalized. In the 1960s, after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, there was mass rioting in the West Haven community. The destruction drove many store owners and markets out. The community didn’t have any new business come in for nearly 40 years! The neighborhood has always been considered a lower-income part of the city and unfortunately was hit very hard by the foreclosure wave. The only positive result of there being so many foreclosures in the neighborhood, is that new owners are coming in with renovation and improvement plans. There is definitely a new sense of motivation and positiveness in the neighborhood and we’re looking forward to seeing it flourish.

RowHouse: When thinking of Chicago domestic architecture, immediately Frank Llyod Wright comes to mind. The Arts and Crafts bungalow style is also very popular. Have either of these styles been translated into the local row house architecture?

Dan: Our row house was constructed in 1889, which was right during the height of Frank Lloyd Wright’s popularity. He was constructing beautiful homes just a few miles west of West Haven. Fortunately, the row houses in Chicago all hold a very Victorian feel. The architectural styles did not merge. Frank Lloyd Wright’s style is very clean line and minimal. Our home is very over-the-top with lavish floor and crown moldings and decorative ceiling medallions around the lights. It makes it very hard for us to paint, to say the least.

RowHouse: Row houses are not generally thought to be a popular urban architecture in Chicago. During the course of our research, we came across several mentions of the “rare” Chicago row house. Is your home’s row an anomaly?

Dan: Row houses are fairly rare in Chicago. Most people assume we live in a townhouse when we say “row house.” We have always lived directly west of the downtown loop area, which is where many of the middle-class, white collar families lived because the trolleys would roll right down Madison Avenue West. So we’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by gorgeous row houses for years now.

The chandelier in the office.

The chandelier in the office.

RowHouse: Your home was built during a period of reconstruction after the great fire of 1871. When you bought the house, you mentioned that it retained most of the original plumbing and electric that, for the time, must have been state of the art. What stands out as a particularly fascinating discovery?

Dan: Although much of our home’s history is still unclear, we do know that it has shifted hands quite a bit. A local church owned it at one point and we’re guessing it was even a half-way house for a while as well. We’re assuming this because our “fascinating discovery” was that there were sinks in every single bedroom. Needless to say, those were the first things to be removed in the renovation.

RowHouse: How extensive was your renovation? Were you able to save anything? Or did you want a fresh start?

Dan: The renovations were extensive for us, since this is our first time owning a home and going through this process. We were able to save almost all of the architectural details of the house while completely updating all of the electrical, plumbing, and kitchen. The whole process took us approximately four (stressful) months. Our lease had ended right around the time we started renovating the house so we moved in much earlier than we should have. It was good because we were always there to oversee the construction but it was much like camping for us for the first month. The first night we stayed here we only had one working light bulb. No bathroom, no plumbing and no kitchen for about a month. We were really roughing it for a while. Thank goodness for gym memberships and locker rooms! We love how everything has turned out despite the long road to the finish line.

RowHouse: After six months, what is your favorite part of living in your row house?

Dan: Our favorite part is actually being able to settle down and get comfortable in our new home. The past year trying to get the house and renovate it has personally been the most stressful year of our lives. Now that everything is finished we’re so happy to own our own row house and finally start to make it a home.

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