Episode 9: “Roscoe”

Few people know it, but Dave (Episode #5) has a passion for the city of Chicago.  He’s read many books on the history of the place from Marquette’s first exploration to the present day.  Even though he now lives in Hubbard, he’s caught up in the energy of Chicago, from the poignant odor in Chinatown grocery stores, to the bustle of shoppers on Wacker Drive, to Indian sari-clad women on Devon Avenue, to the chatter of recent Polish immigrants eating dinner at Angelica’s restaurant on Milwaukee avenue.

Having worked in Chicago for many years before coming to Hubbard, Dave fell in love with the city as a young man.  He figured that his fortune was to be found in a large city rather than a small town and Chicago didn’t disappoint him.  He prospered there and began his main hobby, buying classic Chicago apartment buildings.

Dave simply loves historic buildings, particularly Chicago’s classic greystone Victorian three-flats.  If a brownstone is the quintessential New York building, then surely the greystone is Chicago’s equivalent.  Chicago’s greystones are made of a distinct grey-colored limestone from Bedford, Indiana.  Hence, the name “greystone”.  No one knows how many greystone three-flats Dave owns, but some estimate that he owns about twenty of them.  He snapped most of them up in the 70’s, paying less than $50,000 for them.  Today, due to the “gentrification” of North Side neighborhoods and their proximity to Lake Michigan and the “EL” they are worth over $1,000,000.

Although Dave has fancier, more elegant buildings on the north side, his sentimental favorite is his first purchase, a simple yet beautiful stone-arched three-flat at on Roscoe street.  Located just four blocks from Wrigley field, the brown line elevated railway (the “EL”) runs behind the building in the alley as it slows down to merge with the Red Line.  The neighborhood, called “Wrigleyville”, with it’s elevated railway, shops, and restaurants, is so urban that it literally oozes the word “City”.  When referring to 1036 West Roscoe Dave either calls it his “baby” or “Roscoe”, as if the place was a human being.

The front of Dave’s Roscoe three flat is pure limestone that was worked and carved with the hands of skilled craftsmen over 110 years ago.  The stone steps lead to a beautiful arched entry with classic Ionic columns.  The sides and back of the building contain literally thousands of bricks.  One can only wonder how many bricks were laid in Chicago between 1885 and 1905.  It has to be in the billions because nearly 20,000 Greystones were built during those 20 years.  Greystone lots are typically 25 feet wide and each flat consists of one story.  All of the woodwork and doors are crafted from red oak.  The exterior doors are two inches thick.  The interior six-panel oak doors are 1 5/8th inches thick.  If one were to replace Roscoe’s 47 doors today it would cost between $40,000 and $50,000.   Today the building is as solid as the day it was constructed in 1895.

In the beginning, Roscoe was inhabited by the owner, who lived on the first floor, renting the other two stories to tenants.  Lakeview was a working class neighborhood for relatively high paid craftsmen, artisans, and small business owners.  When the 1950’s arrived, urban neighborhoods fell out of favor and there was a lot of suburban flight.  Property values stagnated and lower income tenants painted some of the oak woodwork and tore out built-in hutches and other original features in many greystones.  Dave intervened and saved Roscoe from further decline, painstakingly working to restore the interior to its original condition.  Today he rents it to young professionals who pride themselves on their good jobs and affluent lifestyles.  His tenants enjoy the sports bars, restaurants, and theaters that dominate modern-day Wrigleyville.

Now that his inventory of greystones has substantial value you would think that Dave would want to sell them and cash in on his investment.  He has no intention of doing so.  They are like the children he never had.  He believes that greystones are the ultimate urban building and in Chicago, a city known for its big buildings, Roscoe fits right in.  Roscoe is imposing, magnificent and impressive.  Dave likes it that way.

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