Park chateau endures like work of art

Renovated 100-year-old home hearkens back to Hinsdale glamour of the Roaring Twenties

In 1923, fire destroyed the Queen Anne-style home at 420 S. Park St.

Owner Kathleen Healy Besly was away on a trip to England and learned the terrible news upon her return. Her desire to stay in Hinsdale fully intact, construction began the following year on a new residence inspired by her European upbringing.

"Besly chose the French eclectic design as it was reminiscent of her childhood spent in France," according to the Hinsdale Historical Society's Historical Tourist: Hinsdale app.

A century later, Mimi Collins and her husband, Dan, have breathed contemporary life into the classic abode while maintaining its vintage essence. Mimi, a local real estate agent who has restored other historic homes in town, saw the potential and purchased it in 2021.

"I kind of fall in love with a house and I have to save it," Collins remarked. "It was always pretty, but it just was dated."

The facade was re-stuccoed and aluminum storm screens removed to reveal the stunning original windows. Visitors step into an expansive foyer, where a 38-step staircase on the opposite side winds up to the second floor and repaired original marble steps lead down to a rear door. To the left is the living room, with a fireplace mantel made from reclaimed burned painting frames salvaged from the former home's wreckage.

Besly was an avid art collector, not surprising considering she was the daughter of famous portrait painter George P. A. Healy, for whom Abraham Lincoln and other luminaries sat. In the dining room across the foyer, Collins discovered an archway entrance to Besly's art salon when she peeled back one of the walls.

"She would flip on the lights and she would have these big parties with this gallery. She had a famous collection," Collins said.

The Hinsdale Tourist app, which provides details on the before and after of the project, chronicles how the salon, now the kitchen, used to have three arches on the outside east wall.

The original kitchen has been converted into a butler's pantry. Moulding throughout the first floor carries a circle motif that Collins has incorporated into aspects of her decor.

"I'd never seen in before but I liked it and kept it," she said.

Besly tapped Chicago architect Alfred Pashley, best known for designing the Cardinal's residence on North State Parkway, for the project.

"Pashley designed the new structure with Pyro-Bloc hollow core tile rather than traditional lath and plaster to prevent future fires," the app explains.

Collins related that the material also proved somewhat of a barrier to upgrading the utilities.

"It becomes calcified and you actually have to jackhammer it out," Collins said. "It's really a lot. But that's why it's also in great shape, because it's so structurally sound."

The number of upstairs bedrooms was reduced from six to four to create bedroom suites. Beautifully revived wood floors run throughout the home, and Collins said windows in the primary bathroom, found hidden behind a closet, were opened to restore natural light.

The third floor, former servants' quarters, houses a bunk room for visiting family, an office and a play room.

"It was for the help," she said of the area accessed by a back staircase. "They had chauffeurs and servants."

For the top-story bedroom, Collins refurbished a wooden bed frame she came across that belonged to the previous owner.

"I like to mix modern with vintage," she remarked.

Behind the home is the original 1899 coach house that survived the fire. Sections of the horse stables are clearly preserved. To the south is the home that Besly had built for her sisters in 1928, now a separate residence. New patios and a circle driveway lend winsome curb appeal. Neighbors once played tennis on courts just off the living room. Those were not resurrected.

While George Healy, who died in 1894 in Chicago, never graced the home, undoubtedly his pieces did. His 1871 portrait of Kathleen's older sister Marie is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which traces the painting's lineage back to 420 S. Park. Chicago's Newberry Library has more than 40 of his portraits in its collection, including paintings of Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant that he used in his most famous piece, "The Peacemakers."

Collins was delighted when she landed a Civil War-era Healy print through a Vermont auction. It hangs in the hallway to the kitchen.

"It's John Hancock's niece, supposedly," she said.

Collins laments the loss of historic specimens over the years but is heartened by the village's steps to promote preservation through incentives like zoning relief and grants.

"It costs a lot of money to redo these houses, but (new builds) don't have the same patina or character."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean