Saturday, June 14, 2014 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD–After years of living a condo life, Gustavo Lira decided that he wanted to own a home. He was residing in Oak Park and had plans to stay there. After some shopping around, he placed a bid on a home he liked and waited for the sale to finalize. While waiting, he took up residence in a hotel, the Carleton of Oak Park. He lived there for a year. Waiting. And then, something happened that would lead to a change in plans.
“I dated this girl who would go jogging out here,” Lira said. “She told me that the housing in Maywood–they don’t sale it like this anymore. So I came out here and looked. This is the first house in Maywood I saw and I fell in love with it right away.”
Lira bought 602 N. Third Avenue in December of 1999. Immediately after moving in, he got to work. He had a cedar roof and central air installed less than a year after purchasing the home. The majority of the home’s architectural and structural integrity, however, he left unchanged.
“The only thing not original to the house is the kitchen,” said Lira.
After marrying his wife Sarah in 2002, Lira installed many of the major appliances that are in the kitchen now.
“Before I was married, I was content with just cooking everything on the grill outside,” he said. “A wife and kids changes that.”
It didn’t change drastically, though. In Sarah, Gustavo’s dedication to preservation found a supplement. Sarah Lira is the Executive Director of Housing Helpers, a nonprofit agency that rehabs foreclosed homes and sales them at fair prices for working class buyers. She’s also a former member of the Village’s Environmental/Beautification Commission and a current member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The Liras’ commitment to preserving their home’s integrity is immediately apparent by simply examining its exterior, which features exquisitely crafted shingled barge-board paneling, Gothic arches on all sides, redwood clapboards and a finished ceramic tile blocks that are designed to resemble stone.
The home is considered a vernacular square style, or Victorian craftsman, home. The style was popularized in the early 1900s, with various styles offered by all of the mail order companies of the day. According to a two-page architectural and historical profile of the home, the Victorian high style marked a stylistic transition that bridged “the gap between 19th century Victorian architecture and 20th century simplification. On the exterior there are reminiscences of gothic [sic] trim in the gables, yet brackets and window trim are stripped to their simplest form.”
The home was built in 1901 by Mr. James Munton after he bought an entire block of the burgeoning town from Colonel William T. Nichols’s Maywood Company. In 1910, a banker bought the home. The Liras live with that purchase to this day.
“I can’t throw it away,” Sarah Lira said of a grainy black-and-white head shot of Carl Robinson, the young married banker who worked for Maywood Bank and Trust at the time of his death. The photo has been in the house for years, lingering with Robinson’s spirit.
“We were told that he hung himself in the basement,” Gustavo said. “But we discovered recently that he shot himself upstairs in the front bedroom. His wife heard a bang and he was rushed to the hospital.”
Any indications that the home is haunted, however, have been relatively few and far between. The most powerful vestige of Robinson’s presence is encapsulated in his photo, with which the Liras can’t quite part–whether out of a respect for the past or in awkward deference to the circumstances of the banker’s demise. Whatever the reason, the Liras have opted to preserve the owner’s image, along with the home that is in part a reflection of that image.
Inside, the home’s Victorian grandeur is somewhat tamed by understated moldings, clean lines, one-dimensional surfaces and restrained flourishes. Turned spindles and a square newel post anchor the balustrade. The windows are punctuated by simple wooden sills and lintels. In the foyer is maple flooring that is original to the home. The parlor and dining rooms feature oak flooring, also original. In addition, the Liras have added period pieces, such as a John Smythe table built in the 1920s, to emphasize the home’s historic character.
“They just don’t make stuff like this anymore,” Gustavo said, in reference to his home’s interior details.
Most of the house has been intact since it was built at the turn of the century, a fact that was essential to its being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 1992. The designation only enhances the home’s museum-like appeal. I was there for about an hour, but the longer I stayed, the more history I felt needed excavating.
The fascination isn’t lost on the Liras’ 10-year-old son Sebastian, who spent much of the time helping his father double as armchair historian and tour guide–handing me an old Chicago Tribune write-up on the home and helping rearrange furniture for photographs. When his friend seemed to inquire about all the fuss (why the man in camera and notepad and schoolchild curiosity walking through a house taking notes?), Sebastian offered a rather matter-of-fact explanation.
“This is what goes with living in an old, historic home.” VFP