The Jackson-Thomas House | Essay | Chicago Reader

The Jackson-Thomas House 

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A brass-plated post stands on the grassy parkway at the northeast corner of Ridge and Greenleaf in Rogers Park. Taller than a fire hydrant and topped with a 1983 commemoration from the Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, the stela marks a lovely white house with a mansard roof, a classical front porch, and an enclosed entry flanked by two pairs of French doors. Why is the house so notable? Location, location, location.

Built around 1873, the Jackson-Thomas house is named for its first and second owners, Andrew B. Jackson and L.H. Thomas. The land was first claimed by Philip Rogers, who began farming there in the 1830s; by 1856 he held hundreds of acres in the area bounded today by Lake Michigan to the east, Rogers and Touhy to the north, Kedzie to the west, and Pratt to the south. After he died some of the land went to daughter Catherine and her husband, Patrick Touhy. In 1871 the Touhys sold 100 acres to the Rogers Park Land Company, whose partners were J.V. Farwell, L.L. Greenleaf, S.P. Lunt, C.H. Morse, and Jackson (whose namesake street was later rechristened Estes). Jackson built his house on three of the company's best lots, atop a glacial ridge so high that the west-facing front was a full story higher than the back.

At that time only about 50 houses existed in Rogers Park, and this was one of the grandest. According to its landmark nomination, archived at the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, it "combines Italianate, Second Empire and to a minor degree neo-Grecian" styles. Its T-shaped floor plan echoes that of an Italian villa, "with an emphasis on height and verticality" especially evident in its windows. The mansard roof is characteristic of the Second Empire style, whose "lavish ornamental display [held] enormous appeal for the post-Civil War nouveau riche."

By 1879 the land had been sold to L.H. Thomas of Michigan, who owned a factory in Rogers Park. The front porch and enclosed entry were added around 1910. Today the house is recognized as "an unusual and highly visible feature of the Rogers Park/West Ridge community by virtue of its age, the rarity of its style, its size, large lot, dramatic terrain, and prominent location at the crest on one of the area's main thoroughfares, Ridge Boulevard....Of the three contemporary Italianate residences remaining in the area, it possesses the most advanced design, and having retained its spacious original lot, is also the least encroached upon by its modern surroundings."

Except for that marker. "My sister's an architect and she just hates it," says Dorothea Tobin, who owns the house today with her husband, Mike. "She says it looks like a big trash can."

--Susan Figliulo

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.

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