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If We Had a Billion Dollars ...

By Amanda Dickman in Arts & Entertainment on May 18, 2007 7:35PM

If you take a walk down Erie just a few blocks west of the hustle-and-bustle (and slow-walking) of Michigan Avenue, you'll find yourself surrounded by grand, newly-rehabbed architecture of yesteryear — namely, the Cable House, Nickerson House, and the John B. Murphy Auditorium.

2007_5_nickerson.jpgWhat began as admiration by a young man named Richard Driehaus turned into a full-fledged labor of love. Driehaus noticed the old mansions years ago, when he would park on Erie to go booze it up over on Rush Street. At the time, more than 30 years ago, the area was quite unsavory, most certainly not the posh commercial and residential mecca that it is today.

Shoddy area or not, Driehaus was in awe of the grandeur of the old homes, and years later, once he had amassed a fortune as a money manager (what does that really mean anyway?), Driehaus purchased the Cable House. Located at the corner of Erie and Wabash, this home was built in 1886 for Ransom R. Cable, a railroad tycoon and president of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company. The house is now the the location of Driehaus' business, Driehaus Capital Management, as well as a showcase of his massive art collection (Tiffany glass panels, lamps, statues and wall art).

Driehaus then snatched up a "circa 1900 townhouse" next door, but his real interest was in another large mansion across the street, the Nickerson House. Problem was, he could only buy it if he coughed up the money to refurbish the adjacent John B. Murphy Auditorium owned by the American College of Surgeons. Apparently with gobs and gobs of money to spare, Driehaus agreed.

The Nickerson House was built in 1883 for Samuel M. Nickerson, whose business ventures included a liquor and wine business, an explosives company, and founder of the First National Bank of Chicago (booze, explosives and money ... sounds like our kind of guy). Nickerson lost many homes in The Great Fire of 1871 (we know everyone knows about it, but we linked anyway), so he wanted this house to be fire proof; each room is essentially its own fireproof box. Oh, and there's marble. Everywhere. Eighteen different kinds. Prompting neighbors to refer to it as the "Marble Palace."

Driehaus worked with architect Joe Antunuvich and Dr. Kirbey Talley Jr. (for authentic interior design and placement) to restore the Nickerson place. The home is expected to open to the public in the fall as a monument to the arts and architecture. Upon visiting, you will find different kinds of hand-carved wood in every room, sofas and chairs from the original home, a Chinese urn purchased by Nickerson at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and many other pieces of Driehaus' decorative arts collection.

Both the Nickerson House and the Cable House are among the very few homes to survive the architecture boom in this area following The Fire. You can take a look inside both homes here.

We don't know about you, but now we know what we can do with that spare billion dollars we have lying around.

Image via Chicago Landmarks.