Chicago’s archbishop residence, a gem on the Gold Coast

The current residence of Chicago's archbishop located at 1555 N. State Parkway.
The current residence of Chicago’s archbishop located at 1555 N. State Parkway. Ramsen Shamon/MEDILL

By Ramsen Shamon

It would be a dream listing: Unparalleled Victorian residence with three-stories, 19 chimneys and 30 rooms located in Chicago’s luxurious Gold Coast. Sophisticated red-brick construction with two-entry façades. Share a piece of history with renowned visitors like Pope John Paul II. Complete with a small chapel and 1.7 acres of priceless lakefront property.

Although 1555 N. State Parkway, the residence of Chicago’s Catholic archbishop, is not on the market yet, some real estate agents could not help thinking about what it might be worth. The speculation comes one day after Chicago’s newly appointed Archbishop Blase J. Cupich said he would not live in the mansion. Instead he will reside more modestly in a three-room residence at Holy Name Cathedral one mile to the south.

“I don’t think there’s a limit [to its value]. It’s unprecedented within Chicago,” said Karen Kass, a real estate broker with KoenigRubloff. “I don’t know how anyone could determine an estimate.”

Mary Bennett, another KoenigRubloff real estate broker active in the Gold Coast, agrees that placing a price on the archbishop’s residence would be difficult. “It would be worth a lot. It was downzoned from R-8 to R-6. If that was reversed the sky’s the limit,” Bennett said.

Under Chicago’s arcane zoning law, an R-6 classification applies to multi-unit properties such as apartments and condominium buildings.

Joseph Schwieterman, a professor of DePaul University’s School of Public Service, explained how zoning in Chicago works: “The number after the dash reflects how intense you can build on the site. And that’s governed mainly by something called the floor-area ratio. R-8 is something around 10, which means if you use the whole site you can build 10 floors. If you use only a third of the site, because you may have a parking lot, or a breeze way or lawn or setback, you can go to 30 floors as long as the average floor area ratio is only 10 or less.”

Lakefront residents have called on city officials to lower zoning classifications for buildings along the lake with R-8 ratings to stop high-rise construction.

So far, the Archdiocese of Chicago says it plans to hold on to its historic building. The building will be used to host guests for at least a year, according to Roman Catholic Church officials. In addition to outgoing Cardinal Francis George, the mansion is home to a member of nuns and priests. George also is planning to move to Holy Name’s rectory.

Finding the right buyer for the Archbishop’s residence may not be an easy task, real estate brokers said. Any new owner who wanted to live there would likely need to remodel and remove institutional features. But the building could also be marketed in “as is” condition. The mansion would likely be of interest to Chicago’s wealthy because of its prime location on the city’s Near North side. A fair price, however, remains an open question. A six bedroom, five-bathroom townhome in the Gold Coast is on the market for $3.25 million. A four bedroom, four-bathroom co-op unit is selling for $4.8 million.

While the property may draw the most interest as a single-family home, the structure could also take on a second life in a manner similar to that of the Marshall Field Jr. mansion. Field’s elegant 1884 home, located on 1919 S. Prairie Ave., was converted into six condos and won a historic preservation award from the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

What historic preservation buffs dread is the idea that it might be torn down to make way for a high-rise. And that could be a possibility. The mansion has not received landmark status from the City of Chicago.