Chicago co-op owner losing battle to save historic foyer
Loop North News

The Home Front

(Above) Elevator foyer on the 12th floor of 1120 North Lake Shore Drive. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

The foyer-as-a-stage concept has thrilled visitors to a Gold Coast co-op for decades. Art historians praise it for referencing the masterpiece singerie designs of Christophe Huet, complete with baroque costumes on the monkeys.

27-Mar-22 – The complicated world of condominiums, co-operative apartments, and homeowner associations is filled with rules and restrictions, and powerful boards of directors in control.

Edward Minieka, a longtime owner of a luxury Gold Coast co-op apartment at 1120 North Lake Shore Drive, 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’œil 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, age 78, who has collected antiques for five decades. “The beautiful trompe-l’œil setting that I so carefully installed over the years will be whitewashed so these people can have an easier time selling their unit.”

Photo provided by Don DeBat

Minieka estimates that since 1979, he has spent $30,000 upgrading the compact four-by-nine-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, according to the bylaw, “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 the estimated cost of each 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 two-bedroom, two-bath, 1600-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 2017.

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’œil 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, recalled Minieka, “who were enthusiastic about the effective use of trompe-l’œil decoration in a smaller space. This décor is mainly used in large European reception rooms.”

Foyer décor history

According to Joseph Potter, the legendary Chicago designer in the 1950s through 1980s, Freeman Keyes, the previous owner of the co-op unit, commissioned the initial trompe-l’œil 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, Nina Smith, added the singerie figures. Here are details on the amazing and costly antiques purchased to furnish the foyer:

• The foyer mirror (right) is from the Regence period, circa 1720, and comes from a Washington, D.C., estate. Value: $12,500.

Photo provided by Don DeBat

• The serpentine marble-top console table is from the Louis XIV period and comes from the William Graham estate in Lake Forest. Value: $4,600.

• The table lamp was made from a Ming celadon 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,” Meineke 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 includes Emmy winner

The primary work on the lighting design was done by Janet Schirn, a member and past president of American Society of Interior Decorators.

The wall design was done by Jack Hackman, an Emmy award winning art director at NBC and director of set design. The trompe-l’œil artist was Bill Bartelt.

Photo provided by Don DeBat

The artist for the singerie was Jose Andreu. He was on 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 North Lake Shore Drive, built in 1924, should be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, not demolished and whitewashed as a canvas for contemporary, trendy design.

(Left) Minieka in his historic foyer.

• Contact Don DeBat at debatnet@aol.com

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