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Life Span: Before 1864-1928
Location: northwest corner of Michigan avenue and Harrison street (233 Michigan
Chicago Tribune, October 24, 1909
Suppose, some fine morning, the door bell should ring and you should answer It, to be confronted by a briskly businesslike person Who would inform you that you had been named as beneficiary in a will and that a big, beautiful house was yours in which to live.
That the house faced on one of Chicago’s most important and beautiful boulevards.
That it contained all in the way of furnishings and adornments that any one could wish, and that it was yours to live In.
You had to live in it, or at any rate could neither rent nor lease it for a period covering more than five years.
That, no matter what the price offered you for the property, you should not sell it; nor should you for any reason whatsoever allow the house to be torn down.
That if you dared to resort to the law for any change or modification of the will you should be dis-inherited and barred from any further participation ‘in the will anal the other heIrs should be perfectly at liberty to take your share, In fact, they should be compelled to do so.
Just how would you feel about the whole proposition?
Improbable, you say?
There never was such a will?
Story of Dunham Will Unusual.
But there was—or is—and it is duly recorded in the records of the Probate court in the County building in the city of Chicago. county of Cook, state of Illinois. It is the last will and testament of John H. Dunham, who died about fifteen years ago, leaving a wife and two daughters, Miss Virginia Dunham and Helen Elizabeth Dunham Hawes, as heirs to his estate, and there is a story connected with it that is as, interesting as it is unusual.
Much property is mentioned in the will; the only piece, however, that has to do with the story is what Is specifled in the papers as the “mansion house,” and it Is located on the corner of Michigan avenue and Harrison street, where It rubs an obstinate elbow into the south side of the Congress hotel. During his life- time this was the family home of John H. Dunham.
There are probably but few people in Chicago who have not seen the house. It is a big, roomy structure, built of stone that has become weatherbeaten with age; but despite the length of time that has elapsed since it was built it shows practically no signs of decay and there is no doubt but that the broad, old fashioned windows will look toward the lake for many years to come.
“Mansion House” the Most Affected.
It had become a settled idea in the mind of Mr. Dunham that as it had been during his life, so it, the “mansion house,” should continue after his death, a family dwelling. Flat buildings might come—so might automobile—but the Dunham home should remain intact. The patrician soil on which it was erected should never become contaminated by the plebeian marks of modern commerce. It was with this thought and determination in mind that the will was drawn up.
The part in the will that refers to it includes other less important improved properties; the “mansion house,” however, is what it most affects. It reads:
It is my will that neither of my said daughters, Mary Virginia Dunham nor Helen Elizabeth Dunham Hawes, shall have the right or power at any time hereafter during their natural lives to alienate, release, incumber, or in anywise convey away their right or title to, or property or interest in, the several lots, pieces, or parcels of land severally devised to them for life, except as hereinafter specifically authorized.
The will then goes on to state that unimproved properties may be leased for a period not longer than eighteen years. Further on It states:
Any attempt on the part of either of my said daughters to dio otherwise than the will provides shall work a forfeiture of the interest, property, and estate of the person iolating this provision. The gifts I make are made with this understanding.
Another portion of the will states that rents shall be neither pledged nor assigned.
Final Clause Absolutely Binding.
It would seem that this would have been thought by Mr. Dunham to provide against any undesired contingencies that might arise. Not so, how- ever. He might die, but his last will and testament should remain a monument of his that could be neither over, crawled around, nor torn down. And so he added the following paragraph:
In the event that either of my heirs shall appeal to the law for a change or of this, my last will and testament, the person or persons. so seek- ing the law shall forfeit all right In and unto the property herein to her or them devised, and the prop- erty herein devised to such contestant shall go to and belong to the that do not Join in this, my last will.
In other words, if either of my heirs resort to the law to change this, my last will, the one so offending, shall be absolutely disinherited.
No one, not even the heirs, thought much about this stipulation in the will at the time it was read. Miss Mary Virginia Dunham, to whose lot the Michigan avenue house fell, was certain that she would never care to live anywhere else, and was surprised, If anything, that her father should thave thought It necessary thus legally to tie her hands and prevent her from in any way disposing of the property.
When the Congress Hotel company bought the ground for the Annex, however, matters tooR a decidedly different complexion. They wanted the whole block for their hostelry—and were willing to pay for it,
Property Would Bring a Fortune.
Property on Michigan avenue at the present time and place where the Dunham home is located is worth a fairly fabulous price, being at from $3,000 to $10,000 a front foot, and Miss Dunham owns thirty-one feet facing the avenue, for which the hotel company was willing to pay the highest price,
But—she could not sell. Acording to another stipulation in the will, she could not lease it for more than five years. Should she attempt to she would be disinherited.
“Absurd!” cried the representatives of the hotel company. “Why, Miss Dunham, the money you would receive for the property would mean many times more the amount to you than that old house represents. You could live on it in the greatest of luxury for the rest of your days. Take the matter into court. Any reasonable judge will grant you a modification of the will.”
But she could not go to court. She could not even engage a lawyer to represent her in court, for unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians the last will and testament of John H. Dunham stood.
“In other words, if either of my heirs resort to the law to change this, my last will and testament, the one so offending shall be absolutely disinherited.”
“I can do nothing,” said Miss Dunham to the representatives of the hotel company, and she gave them a copy of the will to read. As they handed it back to her they bowed in unwilling acquiescence.
She could do nothing.
Miss Dunham Lives Secluded Life.
Miss Dunham is not poor. She lives in the old family home, all alone excepting several servants who have been with her for years. She sees but few people and rarely goes out, and is jealously guarded from any intrusion by people who are without her circle by a little wizened old woman with curiously blank, slate colored eyes, who always answers the ring of the door bell and insists on knowing all about what is wanted by whoever has rung it.
If Miss Dunham is out and a request is made that the visitor be allowed to wait until her return the request invariably is refused.
“It is Miss Dunham’s wish that no one should wait,” intones the person with athe slate colored eyes monotonously. “Call again.”
You may call again, but you are lucky if you are granted admission, for such permission is a most unusual thing.
As has been said, Miss Dunham is not poor, and so, of course, it does not matter particularly that she is prevented from her property. If, however, she should through some trick of fate become penniless it would be an entirely different matter.
In that case the house would be only a drag on her hands, for she would not have the funds to maintain it. Had the stipulation in the will concerning any resort to the law not been made she could go to the courts, which would undoubtedly, for reason of her penniless condition, order that the construction of the will be changed and that portion of it forbidding the sale of any property set aside.
Loophole for the Future Heirs.
The stipulation, however is there. No matter what may come into her life, Miss Mary Virginia Dunham has on her bands something which she cannot sell or even give away.
Had she married of had heirs they could not have disposed of thd house, either. As she is a spinster, however, it is in her power to will away the property, and unless in her will she makes the same stipulation which her father saw fit to make her heirs may do as they choose with the “mansion house.”
“We did want the property and were willing to pay for it,” said a member of the Congress Hotel company the other day, “but no offer has been made since we found out about the wlll for it is one which there is no getting around.
“When the Annex was built we found that it would be necessary to build some foundations under the Dunham house.
“‘Is there any danger of the house being injured?’ asked Miss Dunham nervously. ‘I dare not let any harm come to it through any fault of mine?’
“We assured her that the house should remain intact and that should there be any minor damages we would repair them. She insisted on contract, then, by whlch we agreed to make good any injury that might result. She engaged a lawyer and we had ths papers drawn up in legal form.”
As You Walk down Michigan avenue some time and chance to pass the Dunham home take a good look at it. Note the appearance of impudent security it presents as, scrooged up against the north side of the Congress hotel, It defies time or the law to pull it down, seeming in its inanimate way to realize that a dead hand protects it still,
Edward’s Annual Directory for the City of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1947
Foundations have been installed and work soon will begin on the superstructure of a two story steel and reinforced concrete building at the northwest corner of Michigan av. and Harrison st., the first floor of which will be occupied by a res. taurant, it was announced yesterday.
The building, the first new structure to be constructed on Michiganl av. between Madison st. and Roosevelt rd. In several years, is scheduled for completion next February. Peter E. Camburas Is architect.
The property, fronting 31 feet on Michigan and 173 on Harrison, was leased from the Central National bank in Chicago, trustee, by Harrison Restaurant company, headed by Peter Pappas, who operated the restaurant in the Harrison hotel for 15 years. The lease is for 99 years with a term rental of $1,188,000.
Restaurant on First Floor
The new building, to cost about $185,000, will have exterior walls of Indiana limestone with trim. The restaurant will occupy the first floor. The second floor will be leased to an undetermined tenant, and the basement will be used by the restaurant for storage. The building will be air conditioned and will have indirect lighting thruout. It will be built by C. Pappas, contractor. Norman Arons was attorney for the lessor and Wilson & Me. Ilvaine for the lessee.
John H. Dunham, a sugar merchant, realty operator, and a founder of the Merchants Loan and Trust company, a predecessor company of the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust company, was owner of the mansion that occupied the site. It antedated the Civil war.
Left Property to Children
Dunham, who died in 1893, left his Michigan av. home and other property to his children. However, thru a peculiar clause in his will they received no direct benefit from the natural increase in realty values because the property could not be sold or leased for business uses until all his three children were dead.
This beyond the grave directive ended with the death in 1928 of Miss Mary Virginia Dunham, who was nearly 80. Wreckers razed the old mansion, a year later and the corner was used for several years as a parking lot.
Two story restaurant building under construction from plans by Peter E. Camburas at the northwest corner of Michigan av.. and Harrison st. This was the site for many years of the John H. Dunham residence, antedating the Civil war. It is just south of the Congress hotel.
Land Use of Chicago