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By Lacey Sikora
The groundhog may have predicted an early spring, but in the near western suburbs, winter keeps on coming. When it's too cold or dreary to enjoy things outside, Oak Park's landmark Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave., is opening its doors for activities that don't require snow boots or a shovel.
New this year, the Pleasant Home Foundation is offering two private tours of the house. The tours will be limited to two to 10 participants, and each will offer an unprecedented glimpse into the life of the upper class at the turn of the century.
Pleasant Home Foundation Acting Executive Director Paul Neumann notes that the home was built in 1897, in an early style of Prairie Architecture designed by noted architect George Maher.
"At the time, those in the Chicago School of Architecture were anxious to develop a new style of American architecture," Neumann said. "George Maher was just as experimental and innovative as Frank Lloyd Wright."
This innovative style is not limited to the grand social rooms on the first floor of the home but also is shown in some of the nooks and crannies that become the basis of the Hidden Spaces tours.
Covering parts of the mansion's 16,000 square feet, the tour includes a secret passage and a hidden message. Neumann says the foundation has a lot of stories from visitors and former residents to entertain guests along the way.
The second new tour focuses on the Servant's Staircase. Neumann notes that the first owner of the home, investment banker and philanthropist John Farson had very progressive views on labor.
"He and his wife through that servants should be paid well," Neumann said.
The tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at the experiences of the cooks, maids and chauffeurs who worked to host and maintain Pleasant Home. According to Neumann, the third floor was home to the female servants and could host about five maids per room. The male servants lived on the second floor of the old coach house, which was demolished in the 1960s.
Neumann is excited to be offering new tours of the house.
"We're lucky because John Farson was written up in the Oak Leaves frequently, and he collected articles about himself," he said. "The scrapbook is at the OPRF History Museum. These tours fall into that area of telling stories about the house and the people that used to live here."
Advanced registration for the tours of at least one week is required, and reservations can be made by emailing Neumann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royal Weddings event
On Feb. 22, the Pleasant Home will host a Royal Weddings event at the house. At 7 p.m., historian and lecturer Leslie Goddard will present a living portrayal of British Royal Weddings, followed by a reception on the second floor of the Pleasant Home. A private pre-reception, limited to 25 guests will include an auction of five British-inspired fascinator hats.
Neumann says that the event ties nicely into the role Pleasant Home plays for many.
"Pleasant Home is currently used for weddings, receptions and rehearsal dinners, and we have an historic wedding dress, which will be on view during the event," he said.
Noting that people tend to get engaged around the holidays, Neumann says the event offers an opportunity to combine that timing with a surge in interest in royal weddings following last year's nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Pleasant Home is converting second-floor space previously used by the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society into a wedding suite. Neumann states that the launch will allow people getting married in the home to have space for preparation and dressing in the home.
On Sunday, March 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. Pleasant Home will partner with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest to host a concert of Scott Joplin at the Pleasant Home. The ragtime music will be paired with themed alcoholic punch and root beer for purchase.
Neumann says the musical theme fits into the timeline of the house and offers a chance for visitors to see how the house was designed for entertaining.
In April, with the advent of warmer weather, Neumann will take the reins, offering a lecture on April 25 at 7 p.m. Neumann, who has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society and the Frick Collection, has a master's degree in museum studies from Georgetown University.
He will be sharing some favorite homes, which have shaped the architectural character of the country. From small bungalows to the amazing Hearst Castle to Oak Park's own historic beauties, Neumann will discuss the unique architecture of the country.
"I'll speak about the wonderful range of homes here," he said. "Why people are interested in historic homes, and why it is important to teach people about historic houses."
Neumann points out that it has been a big year for Pleasant Home, which saw renovations to its roof and a restoration of the front entrance's art glass windows.
To celebrate, the Pleasant Home Foundation's annual Revel will take place on June 22 and will celebrate the second owner of the home, Herbert Mills.
Information on all events can be found at www.pleasanthome.org
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