The Miracle House at 2001 N. Nordica Ave. is officially Galewood’s first city landmark and the fourteenth city landmark in the Austin community.
On April 21, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved all of the ordinances necessary for the distinction that cleared the council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards the day before.
The 1955 house stands out thanks to the abundance of glass walls and two sets of spider-like steel arms on the sides that keep the second floor suspended like a bridge.
Owner Dr. David Scheiner, a retired physician who was Barack Obama’s personal doctor until 2008, requested the designation because he liked the house and wanted to preserve it.
According to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the status will prohibit future owners from altering the exteriors and the rooflines, while making the property eligible for certain tax credits and fee waivers.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes Miracle House, said during his April 21 community meeting that Austin has many landmarked buildings. Spotlighting the Miracle House and other historic buildings in the ward, he said, brings positive attention to the community and may attract development.
In 1954, the St. Williams Parish launched a raffle to raise funds to build a new church and the house was conceived as a grand prize. Edo Belli, the co-founder of the Belli and Belli architecture firm, designed the building pro-bono, with General Electric donating appliances, retailer Sol Polk donating furnishings and General Bridge and Steel company providing the steel arms.
The name “Miracle House” was first used on the raffle ticket. The raffle raised enough money to not only pay for a new church, but a new parish rectory, a convent and a school. Since then, the building has only had three owners, with Scheiner buying it in 1999.
As part of the designation process, the application went before the Chicago Commission on Landmarks on Dec. 3, 2020.
“Every time I walk into the house, my heart skips a beat,” Scheiner told the commission at the time. “It’s an amazing house. It doesn’t overwhelm — it just envelops me.”
The planning department recommended the landmark designation because the house had a distinct design that represented mid-1950s optimism and served as a rare example of Belli and Belli-designed residential buildings. The staff also noted that, aside from an addition in the rear in 1965 and a minor alteration in 1999, the building has largely retained its original design.
According to a DPD fact sheet, the landmark designation will allow Miracle House owners to apply for property tax assessment freezes, get federal tax deduction for facade rehabilitation and apply for waiver of city permit fees.
On April 21, Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago historical preservation advocacy group, said he was glad to see such a unique building get landmarked.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful landmark designation of a very unusual mid-century modern house that’s got a very interesting history,” he said. “We’re very proud to have that as one of the newest landmarks.”
Taliaferro has supported the designation throughout the entire process. During his community meeting, he said that he was “excited” that the house was finally landmarked.
Taliaferro also said that, in the past few months, he’s been studying other city landmarks throughout Austin. He noted that three Austin buildings and three Austin historic districts are on the National Register of Historic Places, as well.
Those include the First Congregational Church of Austin, 5701 W. Midway Park Ave.; the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Joseph J. Walser House, 42 N. Central Ave.; and the Seth Warner House, 631 W. Central Ave.
“We do have some really incredible homes in the Austin community,” Taliaferro said. “Those are homes that could easily be $1.5 million in value — just tremendously beautiful.”