Chicago Co-Op Owner Losing Battle To Save Historic Foyer
The complicated world of condominiums, co-operative apartments and homeowner associations (HOAs)is filled with rules and restrictions, and powerful boards of directors in control.
Edward Minieka, a long-time owner of a luxury Gold Coast co-op apartment at 1120 N. Lake Shore Dr. (LSD), has incurred the wrath of the building’s board of directors for decorating his 12th-floor elevator lobby with period antiques and elegant trompe l’oeil décor.
“The board of my co-op has decided that the neighbor across the foyer from me can totally redecorate the entire elevator foyer—albeit at their expense—so that their unit is more salable,” said Minieka, 78, who has collected antiques for five decades.
“The beautiful trompe l’oeil setting that I so carefully installed over the years will be whitewashed so these people can have an easier time selling their unit,” Minieka said. Since 1979, Minieka estimates he has spent $30,000 upgrading the compact 4-by-9-foot elevator lobby into an artistic, Louis XIV-style museum.
As a former president of the board at the 61-unit co-op, perhaps Minieka should have known that the elevator lobby is legally a common area, not his private deeded residential space.
“Throughout my 42-year residency at 1120 LSD, each elevator lobby design change was done in total collaboration with my foyer neighbor,” Minieka recalled. “We always eventually agreed on designs and never approached the board about any of the changes.”
However, earlier this month, the 1120 LSD co-op board passed the following new “Common Areas” bylaw:
“The common areas of the building, which include, but are not limited to, elevator foyer, halls, stairways, the basement, attic, courtyard, elevators, lobby, etc., shall not be altered by any shareholder (owner) without the prior written consent of the board, which may or may not, in its sole discretion, approve the alteration.”
The co-op owner also must submit five copies of any and all plans, specifications, engineering reports, etc., to the board for their consideration. The owner “shall be solely responsible and liable for any and all required permits, inspections, code requirements, and any applicable local ordinances.”
If the co-op owner does not have a particular design drafted, the board requires the owner to select one of three board-approved foyer designs, with estimated cost to be provided by the building manager. “These designs will be in line with the aesthetic of the building,” the bylaw states.
If the co-op owners sharing the elevator foyer cannot agree on one of the three design options, the shareholders will be required to implement the board’s primary foyer option, and “the work would be conducted at the sole expense of the requesting shareholder.”
The new common-area bylaw primarily will benefit the co-op owner across the hall from Minieka. The owner currently is listing the 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1,600-square-foot apartment for $549,000, after a compete rehab. It has languished on the market for 290 days. The current owners purchased the unit for $240,000 in December of 2017.
The show must go on
Meanwhile, here is how the broken-hearted Minieka describes the elevator foyer, a common area space he romantically calls the “best room” in his residence:
“The elevator door opens. You exit onto a stage—let the show begin. This stage-set concept is the basis of the foyer design,” Minieka explains.
“The stage is classical, ghost-lighted, and in the high Louis XIV-style with period antique furniture and trompe l’oeil wall decoration replete with singerie (monkeys portraying humans) and clouds on the ceiling.
The foyer-as-a-stage concept has thrilled visitors to Minieka’s co-op for decades. Art historians praise it for referencing the masterpiece singerie designs of Christophe Huet, he said.
“The musicians are thrilled that the singerie figures are all musicians in baroque costume,” Minieka said. “And the theater visitors delight in the use of a ghost light which indicates that a new show must go on.”
The most enthusiastic visitors were the delegation from the Swedish Royal Academy “who were enthusiastic about the effective use of trompe l’oeil decoration in a smaller space—this décor is mainly used in large European reception rooms,” Minieka recalled.
Foyer decor history
According to Joseph Potter, the legendary Chicago designer in the 1950s through 1980s, Freeman Keyes (the previous owner of the co-op unit) commission the initial trompe l'oeil murals around 1952.
“In 1979, my foyer neighbors and I installed parquet flooring in the Louis XIV style,” Minieka said. “In 1990, my foyer neighbors and I commissioned the enhancing and extension of the wall decoration to include the other walls, ceiling, elevator and fire doors, faux-marble door trims and moldings.”
In 2013, Minieka and his foyer neighbor, Mrs. Nina Smith, added the singerie figures. Here are details on the amazing and costly antiques purchased to furnish the foyer:
The foyer mirror is from the Regence period, circa 1720, and comes from a Washington, DC estate. Value: $12,500.
The serpentine marble-top console table is from the Lous XIV period and comes from the William Graham estate in Lake Forest. Value: $4,600.
The table lamp was made from a Ming celedon vase, circa 1300. Value: $2,000. “The Ming vase would be worth tens of thousands of dollars more if someone in the 1920s hadn’t drilled a hole in its base and converted it to a lamp,” Minieke said.
The ceiling light fixture in the Etruscan style is from New Metal Crafters. Price: $1,500.
An antique Serab Camel Hair runner covers the Louis XIV style inlaid parquet wood floor. Value: $1,900.
Noted designers and artists
The primary work on the lighting design was done by Janet Schirn, American Society of Interior Decorators (ASID) member and past president of the organization.
The wall design was done by Jack Hackman, Emmy-award winner, art director at NBC and director of set design. The trompe l’oeil artist was Bill Bartelt.
The artist for the singerie was Jose Andreu. He was the faculty of the School of the Art Institute when he did the work. Now he is on the faculty of Columbia College.
With a design and artist pedigree like this, the landmark elevator foyer at the 18-story 1120 N. Lake Shore Dr., built in 1924, should be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, not demolished and whitewashed as a canvas for contemporary, trendy design.