Thursday, March 5, 2015

O.O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago
 chicago designslinger

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago (1885) Harald M. Hansen, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As he looked back over the past twenty years, George Hollenbeck Rozet couldn't believe how much his life had changed. The native Philadelphian was living with his wife Josephine in New Orleans on March 4, 1861 when Louisiana seceded from the Union, and George signed-on with the southern Confederacy. Two years later the Rozets were on the run as the Union Army entered the Crescent City and headed north to Tensas Parish, Louisiana where they sought refuge at the Westwood Plantation home of Josie's father Henry D. Mandeville, Jr. At war's end George didn't see much of a future in the ruined reconstructing South, so in 1866 he packed up Josie and the kids and headed north to Chicago. It was a good choice. Many businessmen like the retail merchant Potter Palmer had profited from the war and money was pouring into the city. George saw opportunity in real estate, and by 1881 had established himself as one of the top brokers in the city. One of his clients, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, was selling off chunks of land that had, not so long ago, been the site of the city's Roman Catholic cemetery along Lake Michigan's shoreline. Rozet brokered the property into a commission yielding bonanza.

  [O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Chicago men of business saw promise in the land that had once held the remains of the dearly departed. They purchased pieces and parcels of the former cemetery as Archbishop Feehan graded streets and divvied-up the sandy soil into salable city lots. In January, 1882 the Chicago Tribune announced that George had brokered a deal between the Catholic cleric and retail pioneer turned real estate mogul Potter Palmer. In one fell swoop Palmer, who already owned several large parcels of property around the old cemetery grounds, plunked down $90,695 to buy a large chunk of the Archbishop's sandy  subdivision between the not-quite-yet completed Burton Place and North Avenue, where it fronted the newly emerging Lake-Shore drive.

  [O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Olof O. Ostrom wasn't quite in Potter Palmer's league, but he was doing just fine. When he saw a real estate opportunity, he rolled the dice, and had hit the jackpot a number of times. A piece of the former cemetery that ran east along Schiller Street at the corner of the newly extended Astor Street, was just the right size for Ostrom. He could probably get about seven or eight 20-foot-wide townhouses into the 85-foot-deep lot. The eastern edge of his newly acquired property was adjacent to the large Palmer purchase, and Ostrom was hedging his bets that Palmer would sell his lots with his crazy restriction that only large free-standing houses could be built on the over sized lots. Ostrom on the other hand simply wanted to squeeze as much as he could out of his strip of sand.

  [O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1885 Ostrom hired Chicago architect Harald M. Hansen to design the row of conjoined dwellings. Hansen had come to Chicago from his native Norway after a stint in Berlin studying architecture at the BauAkademie. Architecture as a degreed area of study in the United States was uncommon. In 1865 MIT became the first institution of higher learning to develop an architectural school, followed by the University of Illinois in 1869. It took a couple of years for UofI to get its architecture act together, but in 1871, Harald Hansen left his home in Chicago, and headed down to Urbana, Illinois to become one of the first instructors in the new program. Hansen stayed for a couple of years before heading back to Chicago, and the row he designed for Ostrom would become the prototype of a number of townhouse clusters that the architect would design and become noted for. Fellow Norwegian Ole Christiansen served as the general contractor and oversaw the skilled tradesman who constructed the elaborately crafted, 3-story, 14-room town homes.

  [O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Even though the eight houses only averaged around 20-feet in width, the developer and his    architect spared no expense. Ostrom was following the lead set by Palmer and other area investors, carving-out an elite residential community that would rival Chicago's established enclave of exclusivity, Prairie Avenue. Ostrom's roll of the dice paid off once again. Charles M. Charnley, lumberman and brother of James Charnely who lived nearby in a large home on the northwest corner of Division Street and the Lake-Shore drive, moved into the eastern-most townhouse. A.C. Bodman, a department manager in the Marshall Field wholesale division, moved into a mid-row house, and publisher Alfred T. Andreas took the house at the corner of Schiller and Astor. In 1894 Carter H. Harrison, Jr., son of a Chicago mayor and soon-to-be mayor himself, moved his family into the Andreas corner. The Harrisons stayed until 1906 when William Wrigley of chewing gum fame moved in. The townhouse lost its corner turret for a more sedate Georgian revival facade, and although the front door continued to face Schiller Street, the home's address was switched over to the more prestigious Astor. Over time the multi-roomed, single family townhomes were divided into smaller-roomed, multi-family apartment units. But in the last few years, a few have been restored back to their original 4,000-plus square-foot, single-family size.

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