March 6, 2012

A farewell to the Hemingway home

By Laura Vecsey, Zillow

With plans having fallen through to turn Ernest Hemingway’s boyhood home into a cultural center, the formidable 4,200-sq-ft house in Oak Park, IL has been listed for sale.

Ernest Hemingway's boyhood home in Oak Park, Illinois.


click image to enlarge

The living room of Ernest Hemingway's boyhood home.


According to the Chicago Tribune, the listing marks the end of the Hemingway Foundation’s efforts to revive the place where the great American writer lived from age 6 until 18, and an opportunity for a literature lover to take up a writer’s residence.


In 2001, the Hemingway Foundation borrowed $420,000 and, aided by a $100,000 gift from the village of Oak Park, bought the home for $520,000.

Eight years later, the foundation and Dominican University in River Forest agreed on a $1.5 million plan to transform it into “a unique and dynamic cultural center to educate citizens of the world for the 21st century,” according to a plan developed by Dominican.

That vision included rebuilding the home’s original first-floor “music room,” removed years ago, and using it for displays, performances, “salons and conversations.” The second and third floors were to serve as a “a residential retreat for scholars and artists.”

The agreement between the university and foundation, signed July 1, 2009, called for Dominican to lease and maintain the property for two years while fundraising grew. If all went well, the university would buy the home and continue working with the Hemingway Foundation on its use.

But the plan, undertaken in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, failed to gain momentum.

Designed by Hemingway’s mother, Grace, and Henry Fiddelke, the 1906 home contained offices for Ernest’s father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, and contained a large music room. Eight years after Clarence committed suicide in the home, Mrs. Hemingway moved out. The next owner converted the home into three apartments.

Hemingway was born in Oak Park on July 1, 1899, but at another home which is now numbered 339 North Oak Park Ave. According to the Hemingway Resource Center:

The house (on North Oak Park) was built by Hemingway’s widowed grandfather, Ernest Hall. … Oak Park was a mainly upper middle-class suburb of Chicago that Hemingway would later refer to as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds.” Only ten miles from the big city, Oak Park was really much farther away philosophically.

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