Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Father of Chicago's Condos

At the start of still another real-estate season, let's pause to reflect on local history and to salute one of its unsung heroes.

Q. When was the first of 12,000-plus condos in Chicago completed and what is the name of that building?

A. This city's first condo, Fountainview, was completed 45 years ago, in 1963. The address: 6347 and 6359 N. Ridge, near Devon Avenue in the Edgewater area.

It has been reported that Fountainview--one word, but consisting of two, nearly identical, three-story, brick buildings--may have been the first condo in the United States. But other sources claim that the first U.S. condo was the Greystoke, built in Salt Lake City in 1962. So perhaps Chicago has one more reason to be known as the Second City.

According to Herb Rosenthal, the developer, and then-owner of Dunbar Builders, the 28, 880-square-foot, one-bedroom units at Fountainview sold for $12,999, or $15 per square foot. (The 6347 building also has two, 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom units.)

In a friendly phone conversation from his home in California, 85-year-old Herb told us that 22 of the 30 units were sold in the first weekend. Most buyers were in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The appeal: their monthly payments, including mortage and maintenance, were less than the rent they had been paying elsewhere. (Assessments today are just $180 a month, not including utilities.)

When asked how he came up with the name of the condo, Herb laughed and said: "We needed a name, so we built a fountain in front, designed it so that the fountain could be viewed from every balcony and named the condo Fountainview!"

The tiny fountain can still be viewed today, as proven by this recent photo:

Fountainview, with frozen fountain (foreground) in February

Imagine how different our city's history would be had Herb decided to name Chicago's first condo Mountainview, or even Oceanview.

How good an investment was Chicago's first condo? The most recent sales price on the Multiple Listing Service, in August 2006, was $136,000 ($155 psf). The highest MLS price, in April 2005, was $142,000. According to Jerry Nocek, board president, one owner sold a unit in 2006 for $150,000. Even using the most recent, 2006, MLS price of $136,000, the total appreciation is an amazing 1,060%, or 25% a year!

From 1963 to 1981, Herb says, he built more than 100 condos. Among them: Thorndale North at 5901 N. Lake Shore, Thorndale South at 5855 N. Lake Shore, 1212 N. Lake Shore, 201 E. Chestnut, Malibu at 6007 N. Sheridan, Malibu East at 6033 N. Sheridan and, his final one, 1418 N. Lake Shore.

That, in our view, earns Herb Rosenthal the title, "The Father of Chicago's Condos." This season, the 8,000 agents and brokers likely to split $300 million in condo commissions, and the 18,000 owners expected to collect $6 billion selling their units, may want to join us in saying, "Hats off to you, Herb!"

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