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Family Leaving Historic City Dream Home

By Mark Konkol | April 4, 2014 6:36am
 Ron and Robyn Schwartz, pictured with their daughter, are selling their dream home and moving to the suburbs because "the Chicago school system is the problem."
Ron and Robyn Schwartz, pictured with their daughter, are selling their dream home and moving to the suburbs because "the Chicago school system is the problem."
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DNAinfo/ Mark Konkol

OLD IRVING PARK — In 2006, Ron and Robyn Schwartz bought their dream home — an old Italianate farmhouse on a lot that's probably big enough for a small farm and just perfect for growing their young family.

They packed up their Lincoln Park two-flat and moved to the ornate five-bedroom house on Kostner and Grace, a leafy corner tucked away in the Old Irving Park neighborhood.

If you didn't know you were in the city, you'd swear you were in the suburbs — and that's what the Schwartz family loved about it. 

Inside and out, much of the farmhouse looks like it did when it was built in 1856, from the sweeping front porch to the tall-windowed cupola — which local historians say is where neighbors watched the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

And the handcrafted woodwork, leaded glass windows, three marble fireplaces and two crystal chandeliers added years later have been completely restored.

"In so many ways, it's such a charming home," Ron says. "My favorite part is being outside on the lawn. And I love the wraparound porch. But everything about it, down to the wide hallways upstairs where my kids are always running around, makes it very comfortable."

And even though the house isn't officially a city landmark, the place is soaked in Chicago history.

Early settler John Gray, who served as a Jefferson Township trustee and was elected the first Republican sheriff of Cook County, built the place for his family.

Sheriff Gray was well known for his strong abolitionist views. And legend has it he was involved in the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped blacks escape slavery, according to a story published by the Irving Park Review in 1997.

No one has been able to prove that Gray helped slaves escape to freedom. But in the basement, right under the front foyer, there's a secret room where construction workers found a deep hole, leading to a tunnel and recovered "artifacts" including braids of human hair, Schwartz said.

 Ron and Robyn Schwartz are selling their dream home at 4362 W. Grace.
Old Irivng Park Dream Home
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The hole in the secret room has been filled, but it's still reminds Schwartz that they live in a special place.

"You know, I love history," Schwartz said. "And one of the things I love about this place is being able to tell my kids that our house was on the Underground Railroad. It's a house that you have to love. Every year, there's another project to do."

The improvements they've made — from the fancy, seven-color Victorian paint job to the "great lawn" where the swimming pool and koi ponds used to be — are easy to spot from the street.

The Schwartzes have filled up the house just as planned, too.

Their 9-year-old is now a big brother to 5-year-old twins, who are in kindergarten. And his 4-year-old sister is set to attend preschool next year.

And, ultimately, that has changed things.

"We love living here, but the Chicago school system is the problem," Schwartz said.

Besides the trouble of making sure their kids get accepted into the best schools, there's the hassle of actually getting them there, Schwartz said.

It already takes Robyn Schwartz an hour and a half to drop their oldest off at Coonley Elementary, shuttle the twins to Prescott School and get back home. Next year, they'll have to find a pre-K program.

Like a lot of folks, Schwartz says, he has to face reality, "I have to, unfortunately, move — to the suburbs."

Their dream home is for sale — and it can be yours for $1.495 million.