Chicago preservationist Chris Enck took an offer he couldn't refuse this past September: a 1928 John Van Bergen–designed house for the price of $10. But that deal came with a caveat: the 87-year-old, Prairie-style residence on Isabella Road in Wilmette, Ill., did not include the land on which it was built. The Irving House not only needed to be relocated to a new parcel but also restored. By the time Enck is finished with his project several months from now, he expects to dish out a sum of up to 50,000 times his initial payment.
Enck, a project engineer at the Chicago office of structural restoration firm Klein and Hoffman, says that he didn't initially know how much the project would cost. He now expects to pay anywhere from $450,000 to $500,000 total. This includes the purchase of a vacant lot, the move, the new foundation, the replacement of the house's HVAC and M/E/P systems, and upgrades to its kitchen and bathrooms.
Exposed early in life to Van Bergen’s work, Enck attended the Chicago Junior School, a campus, no longer in operation, that was designed by the famed Illinois architect who was an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright. "I've always been a fan of John Van Bergen," Enck says of the famed architect who designed houses, particularly in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
For years, Enck had been eyeing the house, which was identified by Landmarks Illinois as an endangered property. When a developer bought the property in the spring of 2014, Enck stepped in and purchased the house for $10 in the hopes of restoring it.
"The developer, while he wasn't interested in preserving the house himself, he was ... willing to work with me, giving me a little bit of extra time in the construction project so we could figure out logistics [for moving it]," Enck says. "He basically gave the house away. The $10 dollar was like a formality."
The restoration process so far has involved cutting the two-story house into three parts, lifting it from its original site on Isabella Street in Wilmette, Ill., and moving it to the parking lot of a former Dominick's grocery store in the neighboring suburb of Evanston, Ill., where it has sat for several months as Enck waits for new building permits to begin the foundation work. The move alone cost roughly $85,000.
By the end of February, Enck hopes to transport the house to its new Evanston parcel on Glenview Road and Crawford Avenue, which is about two and half miles from its original site in Wilmette. He aims to have the restoration work done in about three months after the house is moved.
Enck doesn't know yet whether he'll keep the house or put it back on the market once the project is complete. "That part’s a little up in the air at this point," he says. While his goal was to show that there are alternatives to demolition, Enck admits that the approach would be more challenging with a larger project. "The circumstances worked out well that we had a developer who was willing to cooperate, a site that would work close by, and time to figure out the project," he says. "There are a lot of tear downs and it’s good to show that there are other options. ... It's sort of a last resort to save a historically important property."