Lehmann mansion celebrates 100 years with grand style
With its tall, white columns looming at the end of a tree-lined path, an elegant fountain burbling near its entrance, and the row of Model-A Ford vintage cars lined up on the adjacent greensward, the scene at Lehmann Mansion in Lake Villa Sunday was straight out of "The Great Gatsby."
That is, until you saw the 1950s vintage cars parked in another area of the lawn, or noticed Chicago Bears jerseys being worn by the visitors.
The mansion celebrated its 100th anniversary this weekend in grand style, with hayrides, music, face painting andtours. The Lakes Area Community Swing Band played music by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and others.
The array of period details from several decades was also a reminder that the mansion is not just a product of its time, but is continually evolving.
Guests who went inside the mansion appreciated the building's woodwork and architectural details.
"They don't make woodwork like this anymore," said Marlene Krein of Spring Grove. "The crown moldings. The spindles. And I like the fact that every room had its own bathroom. Way ahead of its time."
The original owners, Edward John and Florence Lehmann, were members of what we might today call the "1 percent." The Lehmann family made its fortune with The Fair Store in downtown Chicago.
The summer cottage they built was an elegant agglomeration of architectural styles, with classic columns sharing space with Spanish-style Stucco. Its rooms included 10 bedrooms, nine porches, eight bathrooms and three living rooms.
In 1964, the family sold the property to a developer. By 2001, the mansion had fallen into disrepair and was saved from the wrecking ball by the village of Lake Villa, which purchased it and renovated it into a facility that can be rented for weddings, banquets, meetings and other events.
On hand to show guests around was Robert Frank, a man who was once the property's caretaker in the years after the Lehmann family sold the property. Frank is a real estate broker who also is a member of the Lake Villa Historical Society's board of directors.
"It was the centerpiece of the history of Lake Villa," Frank said. "The Lehmanns had such an impact on Lake Villa. So many of the Lehmann homes have been destroyed and torn down. It seemed like if we didn't save this, it would never be seen again."
Frank said that prior to the village's stepping in to save it, the owners were on the verge of taking out a demolition permit on the home.
As Frank walked through the various rooms and porches, he noted that the walls and floors had survived a century. When stopping in one of the living rooms, he said: "This hardwood floor is the same hardwood floor the Lehmanns walked on 100 years ago. This oak paneling is the same oak paneling the Lehmanns had here 100 years ago."
Although there were a variety of vintage furniture items donated to the mansion, very little original furniture remained. Dr. G. A. Goshgarian donated a dining room table and two high backed cane chairs once owned by the Lehmanns and used in the mansion as part of a dining room set auctioned off in 1964 when the mansion was sold.
Also still there is an antique and cobwebby elevator that was installed in the 1940s, when Edward John Lehmann had difficulty navigating stairs. Frank noted, though, that Lehmann's wife, Florence, refused to ride it because she had a fear of elevators.
"(One of her sons) stood under the elevator and had his brother lower it onto his head, so she could see it would not crush him. Yet, she still refused to ride the elevator," he said.
Among those who appreciated the restoration was Kathleen Romagnoli, who lives in Arizona and returned to the area to visit the mansion. A former Grayslake resident, she said she has many fond memories of the mansion, including attending her sister's wedding there.
"I think they have done a great job (restoring it)," she said. "Just the fact that it's here is an accomplishment, I think."
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