Dr. David Scheiner gets emotional when he talks about his home, a mid-century modern that commands the corner of Armitage and Nordica in Galewood like a 1950s-era Hollywood starlet stranded in Peoria. It is both sexy and sublime, both glam pad and cathedral.
“If my health will hold up, I’ll stay there until I’m feeble,” Scheiner said during an interview last week. He was on the verge of tears. “I’ve never been in a house where every single time I walk in I’m excited.”
The house was designed by the architect Edo Belli in 1954 to benefit St. William Church, according to WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer. The home was the grand prize in a raffle the church sponsored to raise money for a new house of worship. Tickets were $1 and the consolation prizes were ashtrays imprinted with an image of the home.
By the time the raffle was over, Baer said, the church had raised enough funds to cover the cost of the house itself, the new church, a convent, a school and a refectory.
“By the time it was over, the house was entirely built with donated labor and materials,” said Baer. General Electric, for instance, donated electrical equipment.
The famous Hollywood actress Kim Novak, an alumnus of St. William, came to town to announce the winner of the home (since dubbed the Miracle House), who happened to be a parishioner.
Scheiner bought the house in 1999 on the advice of his late wife, who had known about the home while growing up on the Northwest Side. When it was on the market, the couple, who weren’t married at the time, toured the roughly 4,000-square-foot home.
“I walked in and my jaw dropped,” Scheiner said, noting that he purchased the whole thing for around $375,000 at the time.
The home, he said, is 70 percent glass, the floors are marble, the Jetson-style stainless-steel arms imitate the flying buttresses that hold up European cathedrals. Fitting with its history, the home seamlessly marries the secular with the spiritual.
During his interview last month, Scheiner pulled out his cellphone to show a grainy photo of a smiling man sitting in the driver’s seat of a fancy automobile that’s parked out in front of the Miracle House. The photo has to be at least 40 or 50 years old.
“Take a close look,” Scheiner says. “Who is that? Yes. Hugh Hefner.”
Hefner, like Novak, grew up in Galewood.
Scheiner’s own back story is as charmed as his home of 18 years. The retired physician likes to say he knew Barack Obama before Michelle did, which is probably true. Scheiner was the former president’s personal doctor for nearly two decades right up until Obama won the presidency in 2008.
“My practice was in Hyde Park, where he lived,” Scheiner said. “He came in one day. He wasn’t even state senator yet. He might have still been at Harvard Law. During his very first visit into the office, I asked him if was going into politics.
“The very first visit. When he walked into the room, the room changed. He had a presence about him that was hard to describe, but it changed the atmosphere in the room. The only other person who I can describe that way is Cardinal Bernardin. When Bernardin entered a room, it changed. Obama has a presence about him.”
The would-be president, Scheiner said, had a habit of speaking to everyone in the waiting room — from university professors to people on public aid. Scheiner said that around 80 percent of his clientele was black.
“I’m probably the only physician who has had two African American senators for patients,” he said. “Carol Mosley Braun was a close friend of my first wife.”
Scheiner said he didn’t accompany the president to Washington D.C. because, typically, the personal physicians of presidents come from a military background and have expertise in administering emergency care.
When Obama was attempting to pass his signature legislation, the American Affordable Care Act, Scheiner — a proponent of single payer health care — was one of his former patient’s most outspoken critics, speaking to outlets like Fox News and Forbes rather frequently.
So what’s his diagnosis of his former patient’s eight years in office?
“I’m trying to figure out where I would put him in terms of presidents,” Scheiner said. “Not great, but maybe a notch below the greats. We’ve had so many terrible presidents, to say he would be near the top is sort of damning him with faint praise.”
Scheiner said he’s feeling rather despondent about the state of politics in America. When he talks about the current president, the former doctor’s wit shines through, his conversation veering toward oral history.
“I grew up in a conservative family,” he said. “My uncle was the founder and publisher of U.S. News & World Report. There was one Republican senator who I liked a lot. That was when there was such a thing as moderate Republicans. I haven’t voted a Republican for dog catcher in a while. I’m shocked by the way they’re behaving now. The fact that they’re not speaking out against Trump is appalling.”
What about his diagnosis of Trump?
“There’s one thing about Trump that people don’t give him credit for,” Scheiner said. “The Buchanan family is amazingly happy about Trump because for many years Buchanan was considered the worst president we’ve ever had.”
If Studs Terkel could have heard that voice. Then again, he likely may have. He, too, was one of Scheiner’s patients.