It’s always a pleasure to ‘discover’ some little known gem you’ve somehow missed in your own backyard.
Chicago is extremely rich with history
and lore so coming across a treasure like the
is a rich pleasure indeed. Driehaus Museum
|Formal dining room with original table|
Unlike the palatial Biltmore or Hearst residences, the former
is an unassuming structure in
modern Chicago’s downtown landscape of glassy highrises. Located at 40 Nickerson Mansion S.
Erie between Michigan
Ave and State
Street, a look at the façade would never give away
what opulence lies behind those carved front doors. But step inside and it is no
less luxurious and impressive.
|40 S. Erie|
Built in 1883 for Samuel and Mathilda Nickerson and their son, the 3-story, 24,000 square foot residence was reportedly the largest, most extravagant private residence in Chicago at the time - a distinction eventually given up to the Potter Palmer Mansion. 17 types of marble decorate the interior, earning it the nickname ‘The Marble Palace.’
|View into the 'Trophy Room'|
Nickerson made his money in the wholesale liquor business, later becoming a prominent figure in the banking industry. Upon his retirement he sold the home to Lucius George Fisher, president of Union Bag & Paper Co. Few changes were made, but turning the Nickerson’s art gallery into a library/trophy room for Fisher’s hunting trophies and adding a massive mantlepiece to give it a ‘lodge’ look was one. Replacing the skylight with a stained glass dome was another.
|Looking up into the dome|
The family's decision to sell the mansion after Fisher's death in 1916 sparked what is believed to be
first successful preservation effort. After three years without a buyer, a
group of prominent Chicagoans, concerned about possible demolition of the
magnificent residence, raised money to purchase the house and in 1919 presented
the deed to the Chicago of Surgeons,
which located their headquarters there until 1965. American
|Tiffany glass display atop one of the fireplaces|
The rooms are not over-filled with furnishings as they would have been when they were being lived in, but instead are carefully fitted with a selection of tasteful furnishings of the period, providing a much better opportunity to see the intricately inlaid floors, tile hearths and rich hand carved wooden panels and Lincrusta wall coverings.
|Reception room fireplace - note the tiles and carvings|
Mr. Driehaus is also a collector of, among other things, works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Currently showing at the Museum is a selection of more than 60 pieces from his extensive collection, impressively arranged throughout the mansion.
|Tiffany floor lamp |
From this alcove the Nickerson's could see Lake Michigan - not possible today
A trip through this fabulous former residence is truly a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the Tiffany exhibition enhances that experience. The tour guides are both knowledgable and enthusiastic, sharing details and anecdotes about the house and the families who lived in it and happy to answer questions. Walking through the rooms and listening to the narratives, I could easily imagine myself attending dinner parties or even living there. It was a house meant to be lived in - with style!
|Tiffany glass window Garden Landscape|
Next week – more about Tiffany!
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