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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Do you know this place?

I was so lucky to grow up in the ‘50s, when our parents didn’t hover over us or actually seem to be very concerned with safety belts, life jackets or helmets. (Of course, they also didn’t have to contend with the ubiquitous technology or frivolous lawsuits of today.) 

For example, my folks on occasion would have my brother’s birthday party at Riverview Ramble. Can you imagine? They would just let these little 10 year old boys loose in a Chicago amusement park and tell them what time to meet back at the entrance. The little boys always seemed to make it back in time: flushed with excitement and chocolate stains on their T-shirts. Because of this liaise faire attitude our birthday parties and daily life were a little less safe and a lot more fun. Ah, the ‘50s – they were grand.

One of my friends always had these fantastic birthday parties. I think her dad just got such a kick out of planning fun experiences for his daughters - he never us down. I suppose by today’s standards, some of these parties may seem a bit ho, hum or even corny but to us they were amazing.

The one party I will never forget was a treasure hunt that he arranged for us at the Skokie Lagoons. He rented several canoes and we were given a starting map to get us to the next clue. We would navigate between points. At each point we would pick up the next clue that would lead us on our way. The treasure was buried at the end of a series of clues. It was a chest filled with candy and other treats – we had to earn our “goody bags” in those days! I think there were about 4 canoes with these little girls paddling all around the lagoons … it was a sensational party and so much fun.

I suppose because of that memory and others, when I am driving in northwest Winnetka, I always like to drive along Forest Way Road and through the Skokie Lagoons. If you haven’t made that drive, I encourage you to check it out. My out of town clients are always a little amazed to see this forest like area in the midst of suburbia. Even as it was when I was young, there is often at the corner of Tower Road and Forest Way a Good Humor truck. (If my dad felt like it, he would sometimes stop at that truck and get us to an ice cream delight – what a treat!)

Before the lagoons were dug, the area was the site of a marsh, known by the Potawatomi name Chewbab Skokie ("Big Wet Prarie") or Skokie Marsh. The marsh was partially drained by local farmers, leaving a peat bog. During spring floods it became a lake that inundated adjacent property and roads. Even today, some of the lots that border the Skokie Lagoons are in or near a flood plain, so buyers and sellers of real estate need to be aware of that.

Between 1933 and 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) executed a plan that would help bring the flooding under control. Several thousand workers moved four million yards of earth to form the land, creating the artificial lagoons of today.

Over time high waters erode the shoreline, filling the lagoons with sediment and damaging the fish habitat. From 1995 to 1999, the Chicago Audubon Society began a program of shoreline restoration. Plants were added to the shoreline to help limit erosion. Once it was realized that most of the plants in the southern, downstream lagoons were lost during high water, restoration efforts were concentrated on the upstream lagoons. Efforts were made to clear invasive species such as garlic mustard and buckthorn, and replace them with native plants and grasses like goldenrod, tall coreopsis, and echinacea.

The Skokie Lagoons is a nature preserve in both Glencoe and Winnetka that is owned and managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Within the park, there are seven inter-connected lagoons totaling 190 acres. Water flows southward from the Chicago Botanic Garden through the lagoons to the Skokie River.

Check out this place – there are lots of recreational opportunities at Skokie Lagoons including biking, fishing, boating and birding. Here's a map of the Skokie Lagoons.
Stay tuned as we continue to check out the places along Chicago’s North Shore.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do you know this place?

Shortly before I moved to Lake Forest, someone told me attend a class at “Gorton.’’ I had no idea what they were talking about, but quickly learned. Since 1972, "Gorton" has meant "the community house" to Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents, but its designation as a local landmark dates back to 1901, when it opened as the Central School, Lake Forest's first consolidated K-12 school.

The Central School, renamed in 1912 to honor long-time Lake Forest mayor Edward F. Gorton, became known for its nurturing environment and motivating atmosphere. The learning experience must have been memorable, for many former students visit Gorton each year. In June 1971, School District 67 closed the Gorton School. The City of Lake Forest for many months sought a single community group to take over the building. When such proved impossible, the City Council passed a resolution to demolish the building. The resolution galvanized the community into action.

Gorton Community Center is a place that pulls on your heart strings. I think it has to do with its history. Organizations and individuals rallied to save the building for use as a community center. Jackie and Brooks Smith spear-headed the public effort leading the City Council to establish the Community Center Committee as a privately-supported agency of The City of Lake Forest. In December 1972, Gorton made its debut, with volunteers providing the labor and materials needed to bring the building up to code.

From its founding, the operations of Gorton Community Center have been privately funded. No property taxes support Gorton's operations. While the city maintains the site and the exterior of the building, Gorton is an independent Illinois not-for-profit corporation that handles operations. It is one of only a few privately-funded community centers in the United States.

The building itself was designed by James Gamble Rogers and remodeled in 1907 by Howard Van Doren Shaw, who also designed Market Square. In 1935, Anderson and Ticknor created an east addition, including an auditorium. Ralph Millman oversaw a 1953 renovation of the building. The Stuart Community Room was added in 1985, and the Baggett Auditorium was renovated and restored in 1992. The Gorton building was completely renovated in 1999-2001 to bring its users new and improved program space. Included in the renovation were a new Children's Drop-In Center, Fine Arts Center, Performing Arts Center, Youth Activity Center, and Nonprofit Center. The Gorton building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Gorton's operations, improvements, and programs are funded entirely through user fees and the generosity of area residents and businesses.

Gorton provides a home for a number of not-for profit organization such as LEAD, Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), the Deerpath Art League and Mother’s Trust Foundation. These are worthy organizations that needed a cost effective place to conduct their operations and Gorton provides that for them.

Gorton has a number of really special programs that are true assets to the community. For example, the Gorton Children's Drop-In Center is a non-profit, part-time, child care program serving children from six weeks through five years of age. The purpose of the Drop-In Center is to provide "as needed," quality child care for parents needing time to volunteer in the community, to make an appointment, to attend a meeting, to spend time alone with another child -- even to shop! The Gorton Children's Drop-In Center, established in 1986, is licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and complies with all of its standards.

Stay tuned, as we tour the North Shore and see how well you know its places!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I admit it. I’m a dog person – can’t stand cats. I love my dogs, Bert and Lew (AKA, Robert and Lewis). They are two very cute Welsh Corgis, even though Bertie’s ears never went up, so he looks more like a mutt, and Lewie annoyingly barks at everything. I must love my dogs – why else would I put up with all the shedding that comes with this breed? Or why would I put up with the scratches on the doors.

With a pet, I find that you overlook their shortcomings and love them no matter what….until you need to sell your house. Pets can be a real challenge for sellers. I dread the day when I will put my house on the market, because I can see that I will need to vacuum hourly to keep up with their shedding.

Like all dog owners, I’m a little defensive when someone comments negatively on my boys. I find it’s the same when I when I work with sellers who have pets. I tread lightly when I give out pet instructions to sellers. But I have to say, if you want to sell your house, don’t let your cat or dog get in the way.
Odors – huge issue. The sense of smell is such a major component to house selection. When something smells “off,” buyers often walk out the door. Consider professionally cleaning all the furniture or rugs where your pets have slept and keep those spots off limits until the house is under contract. If your dog has rolled in muck or whatever, get him bathed and smelling sweet again soon, so he doesn’t bring that odor into the house. While you’re marketing your house, vacuum frequently, open windows, and get some fresh air in. Draperies also hold odor, so think about having them professionally cleaned.

Stains – look terrible on rugs, etc. There are a number of pet cleaning products, which can eliminate the stains. Make sure nothing looks unsightly. If you can't eliminate the stains then consider removing the rug or replacing it.

Do not have your pets in the house during showings. I was marketing a home several years ago. My clients had this amazingly sweet little dog – gentle as can be. The buyers were a family. They walked in and one of the children completely freaked out. They never looked at the house, because their child was hysterical. You never know who is looking at your home and some people are simply terrified of animals.

I had another client, who is also a friend. Her allergies are so bad, that she won’t set foot in my house. She gets even worse with cats. I was working with her to help them find a new house. At one place we toured the cats were roaming the house and the odor was awful. I'm slightly allergic to animals as well and I couldn't stand it. For her it was even worse. She was inside the property for less than a minute and eliminated it from consideration simply because she knew how difficult it would be to get the cat dander and odors out of that house.

As a selling agent, I hate it when pets are there during a showing… particularly if my clients are bringing in their children. I’m always worried about the safety of both the pets and of us. Consider how stressful it is for the pets to have strangers coming in and out of their home. While I don't think they should be there at all during showings, at the very least, the pets should be contained in crates so that there is no chance of them getting loose or hurt when buyers come into the property.
Also put away all tell-tell signs: their food dishes and toys and beds, crates, etc. Remove the kitty litter box. Make sure the buyers can walk the yard without stepping in dog doo. Sometimes those indicators turn off potential buyers – for no other reason that a pet has lived in the house.
Recognize that if a home has suffered damage due to your pets, it may be devalued in the marketplace. The only cure is taking action to eliminate the problem before your home goes on the market. Agents talk and you don't want your house to get the reputation of having a problem.

So when your agent tells you the pets have got to go, listen to them. Like me, they may love their own dogs – BUT -- pets can definitely make it more difficult to sell a home.

Houzz Pets Survey: Who Rules the House -- Dogs or Cats?