Sorry for the long delay! As I alluded to last time, I had the extreme good fortune to track down Marilyn. She answered my email the same day in December that I sent it and called me later that evening, confirming that she was indeed the girl who grew up in the house. After explaining who I was, what I was doing, and how I found her, Marilyn began to recount a host of information from when she moved in in September of 1928 at the age of three months old, until 22 years later in 1950 when she was married and moved out.
I already knew how the layout of the home had and had not changed over its history, but Marilyn was able to add much more detail. She said that the front retaining wall was built by her father shortly after the house was finished to control erosion onto the sidewalk. There is not currently a retaining wall, and I have seen no evidence of one being there, so it must have been removed a long time ago.
She also told me that her parents remodeled the home some time in the early 1960s, which is what I had suspected with the addition of the sun room. She said that they also renovated the kitchen at the same time, and she wanted to know if the countertops were still pink from that makeover (they aren’t).
One of the most interesting things she mentioned during our half-hour long conversation was that the half-bathroom off of the kitchen was not originally a pantry like I suspected. It was actually an alcove that used to house the oven. That is quite a difference from the room’s current function.
She was likewise able to provide some interesting information about the neighbors, including the Foellingers who owned the newspaper and occupied the large house directly behind most of the homes on the block. The garage that backs up to our back fence used to be a horse stable, and Marilyn told me about how when was a little girl she used to watch Mrs. Foellinger tend to the horses and talk to her through the fence. She also told me her route through yards and streets to go to and from Harrison Hill Elementary School. The way she described would be fully blocked by fences now.
Wanting to hear more, I offered for her to visit the house. She accepted, and when the weather improved from the ice and snow of December, she arrived at our house about two months later along with her daughter and son-in-law. First, though, she offered for me to copy a few photos she had found.
These included a photograph of her parents Wayne and Clara at Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1927. This was the first and only photo of them that I have seen. As we continued to talk, she told me more about the house and how it used to be.
The mystery “breakfast room” referenced by the 1928 newspaper article was not actually a room at all. I was told that instead of the breakfast bar in front of the windows, there was a table with a bench underneath of the windows and that this area was not a separate room. I also learned that the current pantry with the bi-fold door shown above was a china cupboard where Clara displayed her pieces. The old refrigerator also used to be where the current stove is, and the sink was in a place right above where there are now drawers.
Marilyn also explained that the sun room was put in place of a small stoop. It had an overhang supported by a pillar about where the nearest arm of the couch in the photo above is placed. Apparently, this room became where Clara lived most of the time in later life, and Marilyn was surprised that the window on the stairs was open and that the ceiling is only roughly finished. She stated that at one time this room was all drywalled, with the stair window sealed up. So the room must have been gutted at some point after the house sold out of the family. She also said that Clara’s prolific tomato gardens used to fill the back yard, and that a built-in brick oven was present in it for a long time, too.
The basement was finished some time after 1986, and Marilyn told me that the small room off of the main area was formerly designed to be a coal cellar, but since the home had a natural gas boiler, it never contained coal. The current furnace and water heater are in a closet where the old mechanical system used to be. In the unfinished part of the basement, another small room mirrors the coal cellar, and we use it for storage now. Marilyn said it used to be the fruit cellar. The laundry area always had that function, but Clara also had a small stove in it where she would make her own starch.
The small room that is currently Alice’s bedroom we learned was referred to as the “sleeping porch.” It wasn’t really a porch, but the windows wrapped all the way around it on three sides with almost no wall space. In old age, Wayne used to nap in this room.
Marilyn told us that the bathroom is still configured how it used to be, and that the cabinet on the right is original. She also said that it used to be covered, floor and walls, in small tiles laid in patterns of various colors, including green, blue, and gold.
The larger bedroom that is currently Walter’s was Marilyn’s when she was a girl. She said there were no changes that she could see other than that radiators used to be underneath of the windows. I suspected this might have been the case, because the floor in the master has an interesting cut-out under one window that looks like it used to be for a radiator, and an old non-functioning cast iron radiator is still attached to our garage wall.
We knew that the closet shown above was an addition to the master bedroom, and Marilyn said it was also relatively unchanged. Wayne and Clara used to sleep here in separate twin beds. The ash tree you can see through the window in the photo above took the place of an elm tree planted when the house was young.
We knew that the bay window in the living room was a later addition, and Marilyn confirmed that it used to be French doors. She also relayed several anecdotes about the room, including how there used to be a baby grand piano in it. Marilyn also told us that when she was about two years old, her mother heard a scream from the living room and rushed in to find Marilyn hanging by her fingertips from the side of the stairs. 60 years later when she sold the house, the person who bought and renovated it, Robert Helmkemp, hired a plumber who put his foot through one of the stairs and stuck his leg into the ceiling of the basement stairs below. Marilyn also told us that the wife of Thomas Williams, who purchased the home from Helmkemp, eloped with this same plumber. If you recall in a previous post, she was taken off the deed at some point, and this story explains why! In any case, there is no indication of a broken step, but the banister in the photo above is an alteration I made, building it in 2014 to take the place of the cheap replacement present when we bought the house.
The other photograph Marilyn brought was a picture she had taken when she was trying to sell the home after Clara passed. This photo is probably from 1986 and shows the house in rather a state of disrepair. One thing to note is the garage door, which Marilyn said was installed around 1983 and replaced the original. This door is still on the garage, so it can now be definitively dated. The rest of the house looks pretty shabby during this time period because as Clara got older and deteriorated in health, she lost the ability to take care of it. As I mentioned above, Marilyn would frequently visit by using the side door to visit her mother in the sun room. This is because the house was so full of clutter that much of it was impassible. Marilyn said that after Clara’s death, it took her weeks to clear out the house, and most of that consisted of filling a dumpster. She relayed that she climbed up into the attic and tossed junk from the window out into the dumpster on the driveway below.
This may seem like a somewhat sad way for the house to enter into its period of contemporary owners, but Marilyn, and especially her daughter who visited her grandparents Wayne and Clara here, had many happy memories of the home.
Being able to speak with, meet, and invite over someone with such deep ties to the home was an incredibly rewarding experience. I want to thank Marilyn for her willingness to share her personal history with me simply because we shared the same address at different times in its history.
I think this will conclude the history of this home. I would love to learn more about it, but it will only be my home for a few more weeks. We are moving to another side of town, which is part of the reason why I decided to start this project when I did. I feel like a biography of this house is a proper way to say goodbye, and I hope the future owners are able to add more to its story.