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Open House Chicago: Prairie Avenue Mansions

By Quinn Ford | October 20, 2013 8:45am
 Five buildings in the  Prairie Avenue Historic District are opening their doors through Sunday.
Open House Chicago: Prairie Avenue Mansions
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SOUTH LOOP — The city's architectural gems — mansions, private clubs, churches, and more — are opening their doors this weekend to curious Chicagoans.

And it's free.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is hosting its third annual Open House Chicago this weekend. The foundation boasts 150 buildings across the city that are open to the public through Sunday evening.


The South Loop's Prairie Avenue is home to some of the city's oldest mansions, including the Keith House, 1900 South Prairie Avenue.

John W. Roberts was the architect behind the Keith House, which was built in 1870. The 30-room, Second Empire-style home was built by Elbridge Keith, who served as president of the Metropolitan National Bank.

Today, the first floor of the home is reserved for art shows and other events, while the third floor and coach house are rented, said Marcy Baim who owns the Keith house. Her family lives on the second floor of the home.

"We kind of try to keep it open because nothing's really 'ours' in life...so we like to share it," Baim said.

In addition to taking in the architecture, visitors to Keith House may get a surprise. Baim said "spirits" inhabit the house.

Over the years, guests have reported run-in's with benevolent ghosts. Baim said one group even came to the house and held a seance. Baim said she thinks the spirits are past residents of the home.

"In the old days, everyone died at home, so they're descendents," she said. "I think the thing is that they're good with us because we do nothing but talk about them. We're the Keith house."


Another stop in the Prairie Avenue Historic District is the Wheeler Mansion, 2020 South Calumet Avenue. The building is the only historic mansion left on Calumet Avenue.

Like the Keith House, the Wheeler Mansion was built in 1870. Designed by Otis T. Wheelock, the mansion was built for Calvin T. Wheeler, a banker and member of the Chicago Board of Trade.

The building has been used in a variety of ways over the past 143 years, including as a warehouse and publishing company.

Today, the mansion is a designated landmark and serves as a boutique hotel.

The building's owner, Debra Seger, bought the building in 1997 for $10,000 after it was threatened with demolition.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is highlighting three other sites in the South Loop, including: the Clarke House Museum, 1827 South Indiana Avenue; the Glessner House Museum, 1800 South Prairie Avenue; and the Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 South Michigan Avenue.

Open House Chicago runs through the weekend. Most building are open until 5 p.m. Sunday; check here for details for each building.