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Crumbling Auto Shop-Turned-'Secret Garden' Is Edgewater's Newest Event Spot

By Linze Rice | June 20, 2017 5:45am
 Michelle and Robyn Lytle, photographers and the creators of The TaTa Top, recently finished a $600,000 rehab of a former auto body shop into a new "secret garden" event destination.
The Lytle House
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EDGEWATER — When Michelle and Robyn Lytle bought a former auto shop at 5517 N. Broadway in 2015, the property was in disrepair. 

Recognizing its potential, and not wanting to see the building demolished, the pair has since sunk in more than $630,000 in renovations to bring the structure back to life.

The result is a completely transformed "secret-garden"-esque space named The Lytle House that serves as both an event venue and the couple's new home. 

"When you step in off of Broadway, it should really feel like you're in a completely different world — almost like a secret garden," Michelle Lytle said. The Lytles are also the proprietors of The Tata Top bikini line.

Even in its crumbling state, the 3,200-square-foot building had striking features: elongated windows that streamed natural light, exposed brick and a unique loft, all set far back from the street.

After suffering years with little maintenance, however, the property required a complete overhaul, the couple said. But it was a challenge they deemed worthy of facing.

"We knew we wanted to live in the city, we knew we wanted to raise a family here, we knew we wanted to be in this area," Michelle said. "We wanted to be in Edgewater especially, so when we first saw it we were like, 'This is going to be a lot of work, but it's perfect.'"

Today, the former garage is a 1,600-square-foot venue that can accommodate up to 80 people. 

The interior is equipped with tables and chairs, a chalk wall, decorative shelves and restrooms. It can be used for private events like corporate meetings, weddings and receptions, parties, reunions and more at $350 an hour, or $3,500 for a 10-hour weekend slot.

A new retractable glass door has taken the place of the former garage door and provides views out to one of the property's biggest transformations: a 1,200-square-foot outdoor area, complete with an extensive mural of Edgewater, privacy fence, string lights, hidden speakers, seating area, patio and green space.

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Before and after pictures showing the extensive renovation of the old auto shop. [Provided/Michelle Lytle]

Though available for a number of private events, the venue would be a great place for an intimate wedding or reception, in particular, the Lytles said.

As professional wedding photographers by trade, the couple said the building's renovation was designed to give photographers optimal natural light and picturesque backdrops. 

The venue will also be offering all-inclusive wedding packages for $20,000, which will include photography, videography, a DJ, flowers, catering and bar, a chalkboard artist, tables and chairs and dessert. Vendors included in the package are all businesses the pair have worked with in the wedding industry over the last 10 years, they said.

By providing the total package, the goal is to keep the focus on the celebration and not the planning, the couple said. 

"All you'd need to do is show up with your dress and your guests and the rest is done," Michelle Lytle said.

Those renting the venue can also forgo the package and customize the event as they see fit. 

In July, a couple getting married across the street will have dinner catered by the Big Star food truck within the venue's enclosed yard. 

Though Michelle Lytle said she sometimes gets the complaint that Edgewater is "too far north," the neighborhood's position along the Red Line, Lake Shore Drive and its distance from Downtown are among its biggest assets, she said. 

"I totally feel like it's an escape," she said. "Yeah it's further north up Lake Shore Drive but that's a positive, it is like a little vacation, like a destination, resort-ish place."

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Michelle and Robyn Lytle, pictured with daughter Sunny and dog . [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

In January, just days before their daughter was born, the Lytles moved into the renovated loft on the second floor of the building. 

It's an exciting place to raise their first child, Sunny, they said, and it's part of their ongoing commitment to investing in the neighborhood. 

By both living and working in the building, the couple said The Lytle House allows them to essentially open their home to others.

But it almost didn't happen. 

Michelle Lytle said the couple had several offers from other interested buyers who wanted to raze the property.

"I hate seeing them tear things down; I hate seeing things pop up that's like this nondescript building that's cheap to build," she said. "Certainly tearing this place down would have ended up being less money than what we've put into it. ... but we were happy to do it."

In the future, the pair said they want to also open the venue up for community events and partnerships. 

Meanwhile, the Lytles look forward to toasting their first couple.

"I can't wait to see people in here on the happiest days of their lives, or for [any use]," Michelle said. "We're just excited to get people in here. It's cool to think that within these walls it's going to be people just being happy."

Photos by DNAinfo/Linze Rice