Portrait of a Home: The Story and the Drawing
Sharon Wiesenmayer has lived with her husband, Peter, in her home on Ainslie Street for 49 years. In that time she's seen lots of changes to the home and neighborhood.
She remembers kids wandering through the streets of Lincoln Square on their own, seeing shows--plays, not just movies--on the Davis Theater stage, remembered a belly dancing club at a site on Western Avenue at Leland, that is now a parking lot.
Through all the changes to the neighborhood, though, the area always been a "sleepy enclave of nice and decent."
She and her husband had sights on their home, a gorgeous, 1916 example of American Craftsman style with a Spanish style roof, long before they had ever made a purchase offer.
Sharon and Peter had each grown up in the neighborhood and, once married, moved into a condo building at Winona and Western. One day, Sharon's cousin dropped a hint that the Ainslie home's owners might be looking to sell, though they hadn't listed nor even told many others. Sharon and Peter went up and knocked on the front door, introducing themselves to the surprised owners, setting events into motion that led to the ultimate sale of this beloved home. They are the home's fourth owners.
Much later they found out that the former owner, who ostensibly worked as a newsstand attendant in Evanston, was a bookie. He had been stashing evidence of his occupation under a radiator cover.
They found the home and neighborhood well-suited to raise their children.
Two occasions in their personal history with the home stand out:
The first was when they and neighbors handed over the control of the "baby street" that borders the home on its eastern side, running perpendicular to Ainslie. For its early history, the street was private, under control of the homeowners around it. The street at one time had two pillars and a wrought-iron gate that could be opened and closed.
The city approached the street's owners with a deal: Make the street public and we'll maintain it for you. The homeowners agreed. Years later, a water main broke and completely flooded the street and surroundings. The city took responsibility for maintenance, true to their word.
The second event in the home's history was a fire. Previous owners had at some point created a false, second wall in parts of the home, obscuring some of the home's beautiful leaded glass windows. Besides that, the electrical outlets were dangerously jerry-rigged for the new design.
One day, Sharon came home to find that the electrical setup had failed and that the walls were smoldering. While Peter ran to grab the attention of the fire department battalion chief who lived nearby, she rushed in to see what could be salvaged. Opening the door and letting in air, however, only strengthened the fire.
When the battalion chief arrived, he directed the crew to douse the flame at its source first, eschewing the common practice of punching a large hole through the roof and windows. He wanted to save as much of the beautiful house as possible.
That decision helped save the original windows and Spanish tile roof. A fortuitous result of the fire was that Sharon and Peter could finally restore the walls to a state closer to the original, finally exposing the beautiful living room windows. They also expanded the kitchen to a more modern, larger state than the space offered up by the original.
Both Sharon and Peter show evident pride in what the home has become, and in the neighborhood. They know many neighbors who, like them, have kept house and home for decades and tell the story of the area through the story of their own lives.