Homes, holidays and history are a Mount Prospect tradition
A Mount Prospect Christmas tradition celebrates the past and present
A hidden gem among Mount Prospect's scores of beautiful vintage neighborhoods will be on display Dec. 5 when the Mount Prospect Historical Society holds its 27th annual Holiday Housewalk from 3:30 to 9 p.m.
"We chose to highlight the Prospect Park and Prospect Highlands neighborhoods, just south of the well-known S-curve on Route 83, because it is an area that people generally zip by and don't get a chance to appreciate its unique homes, built between the late 1920s and the late 1940s," said Jill Tumberger, co-chairman of the event and a member of the society's board of directors.
Five homeowners will open their homes for interior tours while four others will have their homes' exteriors highlighted with their written histories posted outside on lit podiums for the evening.
Axel Lonnquist, builder of the Prospect Park Country Club subdivision and the Northwest Hills Country Club on the opposite side of Route 83, built the Prospect Park neighborhood, too. Lonnquist announced his glitzy country club subdivision in the Cook County Herald in May, 1925. Based on the positive response to that community, he platted Prospect Park in 1926.
Prospect Park extends southward two blocks from Lincoln Avenue along both sides of South Main, Wille and Pine streets and the east side of Elmhurst Avenue. East Sha-Bonee Trail, which runs through the middle of Prospect Park today, was originally called Birchland Avenue.
Prospect Highlands, located just to the east of Prospect Park, included 34 lots along both sides of Emerson Street, which was only a packed gravel road well into the 1950s.
Of the homes that have their interiors featured on the Housewalk, two were built in the 1920s, soon after the neighborhood was created. The other three were built right after World War II when Mount Prospect's second housing boom took place with thousands of former GIs returning and wanting to settle down with their families.
Of the homes to be highlighted from the outside, three were built in the 1920s and one built in 1941 at the start of World War II.
Many of the homes built in the neighborhood during the 1920s went through receivership during the Great Depression as owners lost their jobs and bank accounts, making them unable to pay mortgages and taxes. Several of the homes were abandoned by their owners and others were repossessed by lenders and then rented until the financial storm passed.
The stories handed down are fascinating, Tumberger said.
The unusual bungalow built in 1928 at 405 S. Main Street was abandoned by its original owner, Herman Gerlich, during the Depression. Leo C. Vernon took possession of the house in 1935 or 1936 and lived there until 1949. His son, Donald, has told the current owners, Larry and Stephanie Kenny, that he recalls the lot next door was a large Victory garden during World War II. A farmer from the south side of Weller Creek would cross the bridge to plow it for the Vernons.
Ernest Loeding, the youngest son of Ida and Gus Loeding, farmers in Niles, purchased the lot at 409 S. Main St. in 1927 and built a small bungalow there. No one knows if he built it for himself or as an investment in the booming town, but he ended up losing the house by court decree in 1934. It appears the house was rented for the following decade. Since 2005 the home has been owned by Joshua and Karen Hess.
Harry O. Gunderson built his English Cottage home at 509 S. Main St. in 1927. He was a biology teacher at Taft High School in Chicago. His specialty was reportedly botany, which is no surprise because old newspaper articles talk about he and his wife being members of the Mount Prospect Garden Club and renowned gardeners who even built a small greenhouse next to their detached garage. Mrs. Gunderson was active in the Mount Prospect Woman's Club and participated in the founding of the Mount Prospect Public Library. Today the home is owned by John and Rose Morrissey.
Lonnquist Construction built the home at 502 S. Main St. for Trygve Maseng and his wife in 1931. They were active members of South Church once it was founded in the late 1930s. A woman who claimed to be the daughter of the Masengs stopped by one day years ago and told the current owners, Tom and Becky Petlicki, that there were only three houses on the block when she lived there and she recalled there being a chicken coop or beehive in the backyard.
William Bolsinger, an accountant with Pure Oil, moved his wife, Ferne, and their 6-year-old son, Randall, to the home at 514 S. Emerson St. in 1947. He purchased the home, unfinished, from the builder who had gone bankrupt. Randall Bolsinger, who remains in touch with the current owners, Mark and Karen Ackermann, recalls cornfields south of the home, attending Arlington High School and skating on an outdoor rink at Lions Park.
The original owner of the home at 419 S. Main St. was Rudolph Seidel, a local dentist. He purchased the house in 1948 and lived there with his family until 1952. The current owners, Kevin and Cecilia McTigue, are only the home's fourth owners in all of that time, purchasing it in 1992 and adding a massive addition between 2005 and 2007.
The McTigues fondly recall how all of their friends pitched in to help them complete the work when the contractors walked off the job. The McTigues likened it to an Amish barn-raising with friends painting, completing the carpentry and an electrician friend doing the electrical work.
They did the work in order to be able to host Cecilia's aging father and to create a first-floor bedroom for him. He has since passed away and that room now functions as a guest room.
The McTigues' lovely living room is original to the house, but they recently added embellishments like crown molding with corner accents and deep baseboards. Cecilia McTigue says that the original house was built pretty "bare bones" with few nice finishes, so she has added them.
During the Housewalk, the McTigues' dining room table will be set for Christmas dinner featuring vintage Irish linens, 19th century china from the village of Louth in Ireland, Waterford crystal and Cecilia's mother's Irish silver, as well as Belleek pieces from Kevin's family, who also hail from Ireland.
At Christmastime, the living room mantle always features Depression-era ornaments and a 1934 ice wagon toy that belonged to Cecilia's dad.
The McTigues also insist on a live tree each year and they place it in their living room, decorating it in a vintage style.
"One tradition that we insist on is a live tree," Cecilia said. "There's a great place up in McHenry where we can cut down our holiday tree. It's a good old-fashioned tree farm, no gimmicks or commercialization, and it's just lovely to be in the country when it's snowing and the kids fan out in search of their favorite tree. It's amusing to listen to our kids debate the merits of the 'perfect tree,' but ultimately everyone enjoys it. It's a nod to a quieter approach to the holidays, which is kind of nice."
Over the years since it was begun in 1988, the Mount Prospect Holiday Housewalk has opened 134 different homes to the public for interior tours, headquartering the walk in various churches, the local historic train station, the Mount Prospect Golf Course, a bank and heated tents when no public structure was close by. The holiday housewalk has also evolved from a Sunday afternoon driving tour highlighting homes all over the village, to a Friday night neighborhood-specific walking tour.
"We have endured the full range of weather, too," laughed Tumberger. "One year it was in the 70s and the homeowners had to turn on their air conditioning because of all the people walking through. Another year we had a huge snowfall the night before but the Public Works Department worked with us and managed to get the street where the Housewalk was being held cleared. Luckily, the walk was all contained on one block that particular year."
The annual event has raised well over $220,000 for the society's operating fund over its venerable history.
The Housewalk's marketing has also evolved. Patrons can now purchase Housewalk tickets from the comfort of their own homes via PayPal through the society's website, www.mtphist.org.
The MPHS Holiday Housewalk also has its own Facebook event page full of up-to-the-minute information, news and tidbits about the event.
The homes featured this year, both inside and outside, are: 401 S. Main St., owned by Rick and Caren Schmehl; 404 S. Main St., owned by Robert and Amy Cimarusti; 409 S. Main St., owned by Joshua and Karen Hess; 419 S. Main St., owned by Kevin and Cecilia McTigue; and 514 S. Emerson St., owned by Mark and Karen Ackermann.
The exteriors of 405 S. Main St., 502 S. Main St., 509 S. Main St. and 506 S. Emerson St. will also be highlighted with historical notes featured on lighted outdoor podiums.
"The Housewalk is the society's largest fundraiser of the year," Tumberger said. "Its proceeds support the many educational endeavors of the society and help to pay for upkeep on our nearly 120-year-old museum. We urge the public to support our effort to preserve local history through enjoying the Housewalk and our other activities throughout the year."
Tickets are $25 in advance, available in stores, banks and park district facilities throughout Mount Prospect or online at www.mtphist.org. They are $27 on the evening of the event at South Church, 501 S. Emerson St., starting at 3 p.m.
Call (847) 392-9006 for more information.