Wheaton couple come forward to move historic mansion

As a last resort in their monthslong crusade to spare a historic mansion from demolition, a Wheaton couple will seek city council permission next month to make the House of Seven Gables their dream family home.

If the council approves their request, Bob and Katy Goldsborough will embark on no ordinary moving day.

They have hired movers who would relocate the 10,000-square-foot mansion - in one piece - about 400 to 500 feet away from its address of more than a century on the grounds of the Loretto Convent. Those experts already have started to prepare for the precarious job as the Goldsboroughs await the fate of their last-ditch effort to save the 19th-century building from the wrecking ball.

"I think it was pretty obvious that no one else was going to step up," Bob Goldsborough said Friday.

Developers of the Loretto campus planned to bulldoze the brick mansion to make way for a new subdivision until the Goldsboroughs agreed to purchase the structure for $100. The Goldsboroughs have applied for a city special-use permit to move the House of Seven Gables to two subdivision lots on the northeast side of the site, where Hawthorne Lane currently dead-ends.

The couple would pay Pulte Homes for each lot, pending city council approval, at a price that is being negotiated. That means the number of homes in the Pulte subdivision, called the Loretto Club, would decrease from 48 to 46 at 1600 Somerset Lane.

"We're working really hard with them to try to make this happen," Katy Goldsborough said.

The council will hold a public hearing on the plan July 10 and could vote to award the permit the following week.

Moving the mansion would cost the Goldsboroughs about $235,000. Crews from Wolfe House & Building Movers would transfer the two-story structure onto dollies and move it down a haul road installed by Pulte developers. They're now prepping to lift the mansion onto a hydraulic jacking system.

The Goldsboroughs came forward just weeks after park district commissioners decided to break off talks with preservationists to acquire the Tudor-style mansion, seemingly cementing its demise. The couple had initially offered to front the costs to move the house to nearby Seven Gables Park.

But park commissioners decided not to pursue the eleventh-hour plan to convert the mansion into a special events venue, citing financial and accessibility concerns. That undertaking would have required raising about $1.2 million in donations and pledges for the project.

Park leaders also cautioned that operating the mansion likely would involve two to three years of deficit spending before the venue became financially sustainable.

The Goldsboroughs envisioned the House of Seven Gables restored as a public asset, calling the park district decision "incredibly disappointing." But Bob Goldsborough said he still thinks "all of the community would benefit" from the preservation of the home - even for private use.

Nancy Flannery, the chairwoman of the city's historic commission, also has floated the idea of a historic district for homes designed by the House of Seven Gables architect Jarvis Hunt. A district devoted to Hunt, who grew up in Vermont and came from a family of architects with national prominence, could draw heritage tourism, Flannery has said.

The home also is a relic from a time in Wheaton's past when "extremely wealthy and influential people" came to visit, Flannery said. Built in 1897, the mansion was part of the "Colony," an exclusive neighborhood for members of the Chicago Golf Club, the first 18-hole course in the country. The Harvard-educated Hunt also designed its clubhouse.

Growing up in Wheaton, Bob Goldsborough often rode his bike past the mansion, struck by the "gorgeous setting." He's now well-versed in the hallmarks of Hunt's designs.

Jarvis Hunt homes are elegant but durable and built to last, Goldsborough said. While bedrooms look more practical, Hunt put effort and craftsmanship into first-floor rooms that hosted social gatherings.

"There's a grandness to it," he said.

Move: Mansion's architect could inspire historic district

  The Wheaton City Council will consider a plan to move the House of Seven Gables during a July 10 public hearing. Daniel White/
  The House of Seven Gables was built in 1897 and designed by architect Jarvis Hunt. Daniel White/
  Demolition crews are tearing down Loretto Convent buildings to make way for a new Pulte Homes subdivision at 1600 Somerset Lane. Daniel White/
  Crews clear trees at the former Loretto Convent Campus in Wheaton. Daniel White/
  Wolfe House & Building Movers crews have placed piers that are underpinning the House of Seven Gables as they prepare for the mansion's possible relocation. Daniel White/
  Two Wheaton residents want to move the House of Seven Gables historic mansion to the northeast side of the Loretto Convent property where Hawthorn Lane dead-ends. Daniel White/
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