If walls could talk, this mansion on West Garfield Boulevard in Chicago would have many stories to tell. Known as the O’Leary Mansion, the 6,270-square-foot home was built in 1890, and is now on the market for $599,877.
“It is such a fascinating piece of Chicago history, it would be really nice to see it all brought back,” says the listing agent, Jose Villaseñor.
The home will require a lot of work to bring it back to its full grandeur, but much of the interior woodwork and moldings are just as Catherine O’Leary left them when she died in 1895.
James Patrick O’Leary (aka “Big Jim”) built the ornate home for and in honor of his mother. He made his fortune in bookmaking as the so-called king of Southside gambling, but his family is known for more than that.
Legend has it that on Oct. 8, 1871, Catherine’s cow kicked over a lantern in the barn of the family’s house. Because it was so dry and windy, the fire quickly spread, burning down a large part of the city.
It was known as the Great Chicago Fire, and the origin of the initial spark has been the subject of some debate, but many of Catherine’s descendants reported that she died heartbroken, from regret over the disaster. James O’Leary died in 1925.
Because of the O’Leary family’s history, the home is equipped with a special amenity.
“This is supposedly the only property in Chicago to have its very own fire hydrant,” Villaseñor explains. “James was very afraid of his property burning down, so he had a fire hydrant installed directly behind his property, in the alley.”
The home is massive—with a total of 33 rooms, including a whopping 12 bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms.
“The ceilings are about 12 feet high,” Villaseñor explains. “When you walk in, there’s a foyer and a grand staircase going up.”
All the doors are unusually tall, he adds.
The house has four levels, with plenty of living space and an abundance of quirks.
A likeness of Catherine O’Leary graces the exterior façade, and the windows and dormers spell out the letters ‘MoM’” when seen from a distance. According to the agent, Big Jim’s initials are carved in the stone out front.
The property is long on unusual details.
“I think one of my favorite features about the property is the built-in vaults,” Villaseñor says. “It has two vaults original to the property, and they’re literally built into the property.”
One is on the first floor, and the other in the basement.
“The vaults are huge. You could walk inside of them, so just imagine how much cash James kept in these vaults.”
There is also a coach house in the back where the O’Leary family kept their horses and carriages. The original carriage stone that helped people step into high carriages is still there.
The current owner has lived in the home since 1991 and is ready to downsize. The home is being sold as is.
“It needs work. It needs updating and cosmetic work. Everything is still pretty original on the property, so there are a lot of cracked plaster walls and some pieces have fallen, so it definitely needs repairs,” Villaseñor explains, adding that he is hoping that someone is ready to step up to the task.
“It’s a massive property. This is not a project for the average buyer. It has to be someone experienced restoring a property of this magnitude,” he adds.
It’s not a property for the project-averse, but the rewards may be worth it for this slice of Windy City history.