THREATENED: O’Leary Mansion Listed for Sale


“On the off chance you’re in the market for a massive 19th century home, the famed O’Leary mansion is back on the market and looking for a new owner.

“Gambling boss James ‘Big Jim’ O’Leary had the four-story mansion at 726 W. Garfield Ave. built for and in honor of his mother, Catherine, according to realtor Jose Villasenor. Spanning 6,720 square feet, the 18-bed, 10-bath home is listed for $535,770.

“The listing says it was built in 1885. The Cook County Assessor website said the building is 130 years old, dating back to 1891.

“Catherine O’Leary’s cow famously was suspected to have started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but the man responsible for the rumor — a local reporter — would confess to making it up more than 20 years later. But the lore stuck, forever becoming a part of her reputation.

“It’s the only property in the city to have its own dedicated fire hydrant — an interesting tidbit considering the family’s place in Chicago history. The mansion also has two large vaults on the first floor and in the basement.

“‘Sometimes I’ll get 50 calls in a week from people interested in the home,’ Villasenor said. ‘It’s truly a beautiful place, from the hardwood floors, the coffered ceilings, the wainscoting…it’s like going back in time.’

“A coach house at the edge of the property sheltered the family’s horses. Villasenor said the stepping stone mother O’Leary used to enter her carriage has remained intact for more than 130 years.

“Another unique feature is the secret tunnel once connecting the O’Leary mansion to another home next door. It’s been sealed off for years but the owner has the original blueprints for it, said Villasenor, who added that O’Leary’s Prohibition-era vices may have been behind the tunnel’s construction.

“Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, said the mansion is not currently landmarked but the group would like a new owner to seek landmark protections especially if they plan major changes to the interior.

‘Ideally we would like it to remain single family, but if the only means of preservation is to convert it into condominiums it would have to do be done carefully, with certain interior rooms kept intact,’ Miller said. ‘These are the wonderful stories that are sometimes overlooked. We would like to see the city be more proactive in protecting these buildings and promoting them.’ (Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 2/16/21)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago 

Mrs. O’Leary’s 1880s Englewood Mansion For Sale — And It Has Its Very Own Fire Hydrant; Gambling boss James O’Leary supposedly had the Garfield Boulevard mansion built for his mom, Catherine, whose cow once was rumored to have started the Great Chicago Fire. The home is listed for $535,770, Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 2/16/21

Mansion of Woman Falsely Blamed for 1871 Great Chicago Fire Is Up for Sale; Mrs. O’Leary’s son built the house for her after the disaster. Now, the property is on the market—and it comes with a fire hydrant, Nora McGreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, 2/19/21

Mrs. O’Leary’s son built this ornate Garfield Boulevard mansion; Now for sale by a longtime owner, the 33-room mansion was originally the home of “Big Jim” O’Leary, a gambling king whose family cow was once blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/5/20


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