Forest Park is a community with many 100-year-old houses. During the course of a century, some of them have completed a circle. People who grew up in their parent’s house end up raising their own children under the same roof. The house at 1120 Beloit also came full circle, recently, when the woman who grew up there, Realtor Dorothy Gillian, was recruited to sell it.
The house no longer resembles the home where Dorothy’s mother, Kay Madden, raised six children. The current owner, Christopher Huppenbauer, has given it a complete makeover. Huppenbauer has his own roots in Forest Park. His grandmother lived on Ferdinand, while his grandfather worked as an undertaker at Zimmerman Funeral Home for 50 years. They raised Christopher’s father in that home on Ferdinand. His cousin, Pat, still lives in town.
Huppenbauer grew up in Melrose Park and moved to Forest Park in 1993 while he was attending UIC. He went on to earn his PhD in neuroscience from Loyola University and currently works as Midwest Distributor for Leica, the 160-year-old company that manufactures microscopes.
Huppenbauer bought the house at 1120 Beloit in 2004. The 2,800-square-foot house sits on a double lot, but it was in sad shape. The ground floor was sagging in the middle and it needed structural, as well as cosmetic improvements. Despite its deteriorated condition, he “fell in love with it.”
He began his restoration, by gutting the interior down to the studs.
“It was a nightmare,” he recalled. When he opened a wall, he would find plaster lathe, six layers of wallpaper, paneling, and dry wall. As Huffenbauer put it, “She was always getting a new coat of lipstick.” He filled six dumpsters with waste from the walls. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Inside the walls, he found cloth wiring that needed to be replaced.
“We had to go down to the bones,” Huffenbauer said. “It was a labor of love.” He worked with an architect to create a new vision for the farmhouse that had been built in 1909. “We designed every detail and the finished house is close to my vision.” He dug out two feet from the basement to provide more headroom and jacked up the sagging floor. He replaced the basement’s wood paneling with drywall and tore out the “scary outhouse bathroom.” Gillian later told him they used to fight over who had to use the basement bathroom.
Huffenbauer marveled how the Maddens got by with only two bathrooms for six kids, with none on the second floor. Upstairs, he encountered the “most obnoxious yellow-flowered wallpaper” in one of the bedrooms. “It was from the ’70s and made you think of the Brady Bunch.” He built three bedrooms on the second floor and added two bathrooms. He also had to replace the stairs to the second floor, so they conform to code. He transformed the first-floor bedroom into a kitchen.
In addition to all the work on the interior, he also re-roofed and re-sided the house. His most dramatic touch was adding a front porch. Huffenbauer embraces hi-tech electronics and turned the former farmhouse into the “house of the future.”
“It’s a ‘smart house’ that can be controlled remotely,” he said. “My inner tree-hugger also came out, so I incorporated full green technology.”
Huffenbauer didn’t go to all of this trouble and expense to create his dream home. He already has that in the house he owns in the historic district of LaGrange. He re-did 1120 Beloit with the intention of selling it. When it came time to find a Realtor, his next door neighbor, Marion Flyte, a close friend of the Maddens, recommended Gillian. Huffenbauer thought Gillian was the perfect person to sell the house.
Gillian’s parents, Joe and Kay Madden, purchased the frame house in 1955. Five years later, Joe died and Kay became a single mom. After her kids were in school, she got a part-time job and later became an officer at Forest Park National Bank.
Gillian recalled the house didn’t feel small when she was growing up. Her mother had a bedroom on the first floor and she shared an upstairs bedroom with her younger sister. To accommodate everyone for meals, the Maddens sat at a picnic table in the kitchen.
She has nothing but good memories of growing up there. In April, Gillian and all of her brothers and sisters toured the house. “It was so much fun,” she recalled, “There was a lot of ‘remember when.’ After the tour, we went to Marion Flyte’s for coffee. It was very nostalgic.”
Kay Madden sold the house in 1988 and bought a house a block north on Beloit. She died peacefully in 2014, at the age of 95. Gillian hadn’t seen her childhood home in years and first visited it after Huffenbauer had gutted it to the studs. Now that the house is finished, Gillian is thrilled.
“I think it’s awesome what he did to the house,” she said. “He took the house and brought it into the present and he made it very smart. I love the front porch and the white siding.” The house had been covered in green asphalt siding when she was a kid.
Gillian is accustomed to working in a market containing century-old homes.
“I love to see people investing in their homes,” she said. “I also love Forest Park. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived.” Gillian, of course, wants to sell the house and noted that, “Gut rehabs are popular.” She’s also certain that her mom would be very pleased with how her old house looks today.