Saturday, February 21, 2015

Charles H. Conover House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Charles H. Conover House (1900) Handy & Cady, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When Charles Conover commissioned architects Handy & Cady to design a house for him and his family in 1900, North State Street, just south of Lincoln Park, was still a newly emerging neighborhood. This part of Chicago's Gold Coast had been the final resting place of the city's north side Catholic population up until the 1870s, when the dearly departed were relocated further north as the living and breathing population edged closer and closer to the cemetery gates.

  [Charles H. Conover House, 1520 N. State Parkway, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Built in what the architects described as the Italian Renaissance Style, the house declared to all passersby that Charles H. Conover had arrived. He worked for Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. who outfitted thousands of retailers across the midwest, south and western U.S. with everything from screws to pot belly stoves. Think the supplier to Home Depot and Lowe's, and you'll get the idea. Conover started out as a clerk, and rose to become president of the company. When he died in 1915, he'd been with the hardware supply firm for 44 years, and was a millionaire.

  [Charles H. Conover House, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The next occupants of the 19-room mansion were Henry H. Porter, Jr. and his young   family. Porter's father, H. H. Porter, Sr., was a Chicago railroad pioneer and owner, who is credited with being one of the driving forces in making the city the hub of the nation's rail transit system. He also started a steel company in Chicago that produced the rails the cars rode on. Shortly before his death in 1910, Porter's steel company merged with U.S. Steel, and because of all his other business interests, this created an estate worth several million dollars, of which Junior was a beneficiary. The young Porter family vacated the house after a publicly messy divorce in 1927, and big changes were in store for 1520 N. State Parkway.
In 1943 many large cities were experiencing housing shortages due to the war effort, what with the increasing number of workers needed to fill war related jobs. So seizing an opportunity, Chicago Title & Trust, the then overseers of the Conover/Porter mansion, divided the now 22-room house into 11 apartment units for families. The war workers would be charged a monthly rental of between $53-$55.00 per month for their unit. On average men earned $54.65 per week at the factory, while women in the same plant, doing the same job, earned $31.50. As for the Conover conversion, a spokesperson for Chicago Title was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying that the conversion would "prevent blight," as well as keeping the "mansion from becoming a 2nd class rooming house." The house is now divided into larger, more luxurious, condominium units.
In 1947 the former cemetery made the headlines when a plumber digging in the basement came upon a skeleton just beneath the concrete floor. And once again in 2010, when more more digging revealed another poor soul left behind in the dust.

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