The newest castle in Chicago is under construction in the Irving Park neighborhood. At the end of a quiet street of small frame houses, this impressive stone manor turns its heavy back against the neighborhood to overlook the sunken wasteland of the Edens Expressway. Imagine a luxurious banquet on the upper parapet accompanied by the roar of endless freeway traffic and you will understand the romance of the location.
From the first revelation of construction plans in 2004, the project has attracted annoyance and anger from neighbors unhappy with the scale and proportions of the house. It probably didn't help win their blessing that the dreamer who plans to live here is the owner of a hip-hop record label and real estate developer with big plans. Despite the opposition, the owner has enlisted the services of lawyers in the right positions in the city bureaucracy, giving him the blessing of the zoning commission and local alderman to continue the project.
To be sure, the house makes no effort to fit in with or please its neighbors. Its height blocks any sun from the house directly to the north. Its bulk fills the small triangular lot without any breathing room for green space. The latest step is construction of an 8-foot stone wall at the lot line. Whether such brazenness could be considered a spirited affront to bourgeois conformity or a tacky grasp at the arrogance of wealth and power probably depends on whether you live on the block.
The castle appears to be faced with real stone, a step up from another notable cinder block fortress in Chicago. There are several rooftop decks and a grand lofted entrance foyer open to the afternoon sunlight. As house castles go, this one makes perfect sense as a fortress against outsiders, although in this case the hostility and defensiveness of the project have only reinforced each other.
It is inspiring in a certain way that there are still mavericks around with an interest in architectural statements. Too much of the wealth of the 90s was wasted on immaterial fripperies, such as home theater systems and boutique coffees, while the upscale moved into cinder block condos little different in appearance from Wal-Marts. Excess needs its eccentrics who will build us the house museums of the future. If we are stuck with the inequalities of a corrupt city government and the arrogances of wealth, let them build us a San Simeon for our time, so that someday we may tour and be amazed by what once disgusted us.
More about the controversial castle project at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Reader.