AT FIRST GLANCE, IT'S hard to tell whether the 17 row homes lined up along one side of Prairie Avenue are vestiges of this street's famous past or harbingers of the future. The granite curbs, antique streetlamps, and nearby iron-fenced park hint at this neighborhood's Gilded Age aura, when 1890s Chicago heavyweights such as George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Potter Palmer lived on what was then known as “Millionaires Row.” In later years, this architecturally rich South Loop district fell on hard times as prominent families abandoned their mansions and moved north. But Chicago-based developer Rezmar Corp. is counting on a rebound—and in a big way.
The five-story Mansions on Prairie Avenue might look historic, but they are indeed brand new. They make up the third and final phase of Rezmar's five-year development, Historic Homes on Prairie Avenue. (Phases I and II include 18 town-homes at The Cornerstone of the Commonwealth, and The Commonwealth on Prairie Avenue, a 41-unit condominium and townhome development.) The family-friendly mansions, designed by Chicago architectural firm Pappageorge/Haymes, offer private parking, three to four bedrooms, up to six baths, 4,800 to 5,900 square feet of living area, and top-floor views of Lake Michigan and Soldier Field. All but the model have been sold, at prices ranging from $1.5 to $2 million.
“The Mansions were executed better than anyone expected,” says Ron Smith, vice president of sales and advertising at Rezmar. “I was standing outside one day and someone passing by asked how old the original house was that we were ‘remodeling.' I said to her, ‘How does six months grab you?' That's a testimony to Pappageorge/Haymes and our own Chicago Construction Services.”
While the front elevations give off a sense of history (classic stone stoops, brick and brownstone façades, gabled roofs), the inside is all about life in the 21st century. Each home features the rooms that today's families demand—library/den, family room, open kitchen, media room—plus its own elevator, 9- to 11-foot ceilings, cove moldings, top-notch built-ins, and liberal use of granite and marble. Credit for the high level of interior appointments goes to prominent Chicago designer John Robert Wiltgen, who was hired by Rezmar to offer up to 150 hours of his time to provide design guidance to each new homeowner.
“There was no way of forecasting what upgrades our buyers would want,” says Smith. “John's normal fee is $200 per hour, so it ended up being $30,000 worth of design. John's work is so precise, though, that we were able to build directly from his drawings, so it became a practical way to give homeowners some choice.”
It also ended up being a great marketing tool and a nifty way to turn million-dollar spec houses into near custom creations. Arthur Meeker, the 19th-century writer who called Prairie Avenue “that sunny street that holds the sifted few,” would no doubt approve.
Project: The Mansions on Prairie Avenue, Chicago; Size: 4,800 to 5,900 square feet; Total units: 17; Price: $1.5 to $2 million; Developer: Mansions of Prairie Place LLC, managed by Rezmar Corp., Chicago; Builder: Chicago Construction Services, Chicago; Architect: Pappageorge/Haymes, Chicago; Landscape architect: Hayden Bulin Larson, Chicago; Interior designer: John Robert Wiltgen Design, Chicago
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.