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Farcroft Apartments, Designed by 'Magician' Architect, Completely Renovated

By Benjamin Woodard | December 16, 2013 9:00am
 The 13-story apartment building was built in the 1300 block of West Fargo Avenue, fueling magical rumors.
Magical Farcroft Apartments
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ROGERS PARK — Billionaire preservationist and developer Jennifer Pritzker has completed the multi-million dollar renovation of one of Rogers Park's tallest buildings, the Farcroft apartments.

Rebranded "Farcroft by the Lake," nearly all 84 rental units had been leased by Pritzker's Rogers Park Vintage Management before its doors opened.

To celebrate, the company threw a holiday party for the tenants late last week.

But the restored lobby, and the entirely gutted floors above, weren't the only thing on the minds of Farcroft's newest inhabitants.

"The architect was really into magic," said Taylor Stallworth, 22, who moved into a 10th floor apartment in May with boyfriend Rodney Dennis, 24.

Although they have sweeping views of the city skyline to the south and west, the first thing she mentioned was Farcroft's seemingly magical qualities.

And it turns out, Stallworth might be right.

The apartments were built in 1928 by architect Charles W. Nicol.

Apparently it's no coincidence that Nicol designed the building — located in the middle of the 1300 block of West Fargo Avenue — to have 13 floors, referencing the most superstitious number.

Greg Nielson, a representative of Pritzker's management company, said other pieces of the building's architecture support the leading rumor that Nicol was a "magician" — although adding that the building's exact history is "hard to come by."

Before the gut renovation of the building from the second floor to the 13th, the apartments also reportedly lacked right angles to better support the flow of mystical energy.

"The corners are a certain way to generate a certain energy," said Stallworth.

The exterior of the building also was designed with no right angles and is decorated with carved grotesques symbolizing vices, such as greed, vanity and gluttony.

Previous tenants have described the lobby as a "medieval feasting hall" accentuated with a series of "decapitated clergymen" above the fireplace; "hunchback monks" appear to be holding the weight of the building on their backs above support columns.

Only a few archived newspaper clippings mention Nicol.

Plans for the 13-story Farcroft apartments were first noted in a Tribune article, published Feb. 12, 1928. Designed by Nicol, the article stated, the building would be faced with brick "with attractive shadow paneling on the east wall."

The total cost to construct the building was priced at $925,000 ($12.6 million in today's dollar when adjusted for inflation).

Five months later, work began, according to another Tribune article. Then, in 1947, Nicol was elected president of the Chicago Building Congress, according to the Tribune, which also published a photo of the architect.

Sean McGowan, chief operating officer of Tawani Enterprises, Pritzker's real estate holding company, said the restoration of the Farcroft was a definite "nod to the past."

Tawani had just finished restoring the Farcroft's copper mansard roof, which will become coated in a green patina, like the Statue of Liberty, within the next five years.

"This place was in really bad shape," he said at the holiday party, which was catered by another Tawani crown jewel, the Mayne Stage and Act One Pub.

He said Tawani owns 250-300 rental units throughout Rogers Park and is nearly finished restoring the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Emil Bach House nearby.

McGowan described Pritzker and her team — who were responsible for the restoration of the Monroe Building in the Loop — as "preservationists first, developers second."

"We're blessed with the fact that we have the resources to do it right," he said.

Next, Tawani expects to begin construction on its controversial 250-car parking garage on Sheridan Road, which will serve residents of the Farcroft and guests of the Emil Bach House a couple of blocks away.

Some spots would also be open to the public.

After that, McGowan said, "our eye is always open."