Steep price tag for repair of historic Kenwood mansions


Staff Writer

To restore the decaying Frank Lloyd Wright houses at the center of a controversy in South Kenwood will take between $4 and $5 million, in addition to their purchase prices.

The Blossom and McArthur houses have languished on the real estate market since fall of 2012. The McArthur house, 4852 S. Kenwood Ave., is listed at $1,175,000 and the Blossom house, 4858 S. Kenwood Ave., is listed at $1,150,000.

Last month, at a Fourth Ward meeting, Tawani Enterprises, which is headed by billionaire Jennifer Pritzker, offered to buy the houses, renovate them and operate them as a bed-and-breakfast. Ald. Will Burns (4th) killed the idea after the audience objected to a commercial enterprise operating in a largely residential area.

Patrick Rosen, an architect and partner with Rosen Architecture, spoke at an informational meeting organized by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Tuesday night. Rosen estimated that to fully restore the interior and exterior the new owners would need to invest between $2-2.5 million into each home.

The houses are both in the Kenwood Landmark district, which protects the exterior of the homes. If a new buyer wanted to only repair the exterior, Rosen estimated that would still cost around $500,000. The interior of the homes, where Wright’s work is best displayed, are not protected by the landmark district.

Each home is in serious need of rehabilitation. To repair the exterior of the Blossom house, Rosen said, the siding would need to be removed completely and replaced. The wood floors in both homes would need to be removed down to the joists and replaced, all of the electrical wiring would need to be replaced, as would many of the plaster walls. The south porch on the Blossom house needs to be completely rebuilt.

It’s not without hope, he said. The finishes, including the wood-paneled wainscoting Wright was famous for, are largely in good shape. Both homes can be restored to original or better condition with a buyer willing to put in the work and money.
Laura King, who lives on the 4800 block of South Woodlawn Avenue, just two blocks away from the Wright houses, recently renovated her spacious home. She and her husband had initially estimated it could cost $500 per square foot to renovate the home but ultimately spent over $600 per square foot.

“We went to try to market our entire building and people thought we were crazy for our asking price but it reflected what we had actually had to invest to save this building,” King said. In the two years her house has been on the real estate market no one has come close to their asking price. “We will have to sell it at a very significant loss. We’ve enjoyed living there, we’ve loved the home. We didn’t really do it for financial reasons, but these are costly endeavors.”