By Mary Lu Laffey, Special to the Tribune
5:38 PM EDT, April 16, 2010
Next time you spot a PH button in an elevator, give a nod to Elisha Otis, whose successor companies took his lift designs from the mid-1800s to rarified heights in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The gearless traction electric elevator doesn't sound glamorous, but without it there'd be no romantic view from the Signature Room at the John Hancock Center, thrills on a transparent ledge at the Willis Tower or prestigious properties called penthouses on the top floors of buildings all across Chicago.
Much like skyscrapers, penthouse living began as an American dream. Native Illinoisan and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton was among the first of the uber-wealthy to believe in living in a mansion in the sky. In 1925, she added a penthouse to her collection of residences when she commissioned a 54-room, triplex at the top of a 14-story building on Fifth Avenue in New York.
Like today's penthouse buyers, Hutton wanted input on the floor plans. She reportedly specified a wine cellar, a cold storage area for her furs and to hold fresh flowers plus a room to house the family silver. To entice the Huttons to move in, the building management provided a private elevator and the services of the property's concierge.
Chicago-area real estate developers and sales executives meet discerning buyers not unlike Hutton whenever they unveil plans for a new building that includes penthouses. Privacy tops the wish list for today's penthouse buyer. Other criteria include great views, space on a high floor and luxurious amenities.
"It is important to pre-sell this type of a purchase so customization can be extended (to the new homeowner)," said Joel M. Carlins, co-chief executive of the Magellan Group, which is developing Lakeshore East between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. "In some cases, we will leave (a floor) empty so the buyer can bid it out for construction," he said.
"People pay more for a penthouse because it offers exclusivity and to (be able to) have a larger unit even on the same floor plate," Carlins said. Eight of the nine penthouses offered on the top two residential floors at Aqua were sold from plans. Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang designed the 82-story Aqua. Part of Lakeshore East, it is in the 200 block of North Columbus Drive.
Aqua penthouses average 3,000 square feet with 100-foot balconies that roll in undulating curves from the sides of the building. Penthouse balconies on the 81st floor are the highest in the city and sport views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and Millennium and Grant Parks.
The balconies at the Mallinckrodt in the Park restoration in Wilmette are at the opposite extreme. Nonetheless they caught Eileen Paull's attention. She and her husband, Matthew, purchased on the top floor of the five-story rehab in an age-restricted condominium development that overlooks a 14-acre public park.
Paull likes the idea of living in the treetops. She envisions gatherings on the balcony when the summer concert series begins in Mallinckrodt Park, part of the grounds of the convent that was originally associated with Loyola University. The balcony has western exposure too, so she is looking forward to the sunsets.
Before relocating to the North Shore, the Paulls lived in a condominium in the former American Furniture Mart, which is the building located at 680 N. Lake Shore Drive. The Mart was built in 1926. "The lobby had spectacular architectural features," she said, adding that the Mallinckrodt unit does as well. A round, stained glass window, original to the convent, is a focal point in her new living room.
Ted Pickus, who leads the Mallinckrodt sales team, says units at Mallinckrodt meet the criteria of a penthouse: privacy, top-floor location and exclusive amenities. "Some [units have] vaulted ceilings in excess of 15 feet. Many include original corbels.
"Buyers like the location," he says." "When you mention looking at a penthouse, there's an excitement. It sets a tone of prestige that is associated with nicer, larger homes." At Mallinckrodt, a 3,000-square-foot condo with a two-car garage lists at $750,000.
Location was important to Robert Archer who relocated back to the Gold Coast after living in a historic home in Lincolnwood. And so was privacy.
Like the Paulls, the opportunity to create an original floor plan was too tempting to pass up. At 50 East Chestnut, a 39-story building positioned as an all-penthouse building, Archer recreated the floor plan of the house in Lincolnwood. "I didn't realize it until they [the contractors] were way into it," he said. "With only one unit per floor, living here is like living in a separate home, but in a high-rise building."
That reaction is what Charles Huzenis had in mind when Rush-Chestnut LLC developed the building. Huzenis is a partner at Rush-Chestnut.
"Buyers coming out of a single-family home are accustomed to individual space and are not as comfortable with others living on the same floor," he said. At 50 East Chestnut, each floor offers a private elevator foyer and, with its trapezoid-shaped floor plan, windows with 270-degree views. Units range from 3,845 to 3,904 square feet and are priced from $2,871,900 to $3,359,900. Parking is available for $65,000 per space.
Archer and his wife had lived in the Gold Coast 35 years prior, that time at 201 E. Chestnut. "We joke that it took us 35 years to move 11/2 blocks," says Archer.
Jane Shawkey, who heads up sales at Rubloff Residential Properties for The Ritz-Carlton Residences, says construction continues at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Erie Street. "Although the schedule is always moving, we are looking to deliver toward the end of 2011," she said.
The 88 residences include two penthouses in a 40-story building designed by Lucien LaGrange. One penthouse consists of 6,500 square feet of interior space plus a 583-square-foot terrace and a 491-square-foot balcony that promise singular views of the Magnificent Mile and beyond to Lake Michigan and toward the Chicago River. It is listed at $13 million.
A commanding panorama from the top of Trump International Hotel and Towers also comes with a multimillion dollar price tag. In the towers on Wabash Avenue at the Chicago River, penthouses are on the top four residential floors of the 92-story building. Trump Tower sales associate Cyndy Salgado says the penthouses are sold unfinished so buyers can customize the spaces. The highest-priced penthouse in Trump Tower is on the 89th floor: 14,260 square feet with a listed price of $32,798,000.
Residents in North America's tallest residential building are assured luxury amenties such as 24-hour room service, spa, restaurant overlooking the river as well as special touches like access to ballrooms and meeting rooms in the hotel or plentiful parking to accommodate multiple guests if entertaining. Residents may also choose to have their party catered by one of the chefs on staff within the building.
Because of its location in the Financial District, the 47-story tower at 235 Van Buren always was expected to have great city views. Scott Hoskins, president and managing broker of CMK Realty, the sales and marketing agent for 235, admits that they didn't realize just how breathtaking the views would be — especially from the 1,400-square-foot garden terrace that is part of a duplex penthouse on the 46th and 47th floors.
This 2,272-square-foot penthouse also includes a walkout balcony from the sitting room. An expanse of glass in the open atrium stretches 24 feet from the living-room floor to the ceiling of the second floor. Facing south, residents can observe the weather approach the city over the South Branch of the Chicago River. To the north, they can watch as Loop high-rises and the Willis Tower light up the skyline.
The duplex residence is listed at $995,000. Other penthouses at 235 start at $339,900. Secured parking spaces are priced from $31,900 and from $51,900 for tandem spaces.
Hoskins says that most CMK clients buy from blueprints. "They have seen other projects of ours and like what we do, so they are more confident to purchase," he said. Hoskins is bucking trends, though, by introducing not one, but two model penthouses that will provide the ultimate in turnkey residences. "We anticipate these models to be ready in mid-April," he said.
In the South Loop, Astoria Tower Residences and Spa at 9th and State Streets offers sky residences in a 30-story Art Deco-style high-rise. Penthouse residents are affluent people who know what they want and part of that is living on top of the world, according to Jim Psyhogios, vice president and broker at Weichert, Frankel and Giles, the firm that developed Astoria and Michigan Avenue Tower II.
"Astoria Tower Residences and Spa offers an urban hotel/spa lifestyle for residents with stunning views of the city and lake," he said. The $3 million Spa Life Center measures over 12,000 square feet inside and offers two landscaped terraces of more than 1,900 square feet each.
Penthouse 3004 boasts 14-foot ceilings on the 30th floor. The two-bedroom plus den with 2 1/2 baths and 1,814 square feet of living area has been reduced from $1.449 million to $1.06 million. Deeded parking is $34,800.
In Michigan Avenue Tower II, 700 square feet of outdoor terrace spills outside of a 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom and three-bath penthouse. The same size terrace is attached to a 4,500-square-foot penthouse with an equal number of bed and bathrooms.
The price of the smaller unit is $100,000 more than the larger one because its view is of Lake Michigan. The lake view penthouse is priced at $1.9 million; while the city-view unit is priced at $1.8 million.
"Myself?" Psyhogios says, "I like the city view. Forgive me for saying this, but as much as I love the lake, it disappears in the dark. But when the city lights up, the view changes each night."
Thanks to Elisha Otis and imaginative developers, penthouse owners in Chicago can take their pick of high-storied views.