The developer of a Lake Forest property with a direct connection to the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel "The Great Gatsby" is launching sales of a 34-home subdivision targeted to North Shore downsizers and snowbirds.
The houses at Westleigh Farm will all be single-story, and every one will have views into the subdivision's shared open space, said Bill Ryan, CEO of Schaumburg-based William Ryan Homes. About half the 48-acre site will be green space, he said.
"A lot of people were drawn up to Lake Forest by its open spaces, its big lots," Ryan said. "They're ready to downsize but they don't want to lose that." The open spaces planned for Westleigh Farm, at Ridge and Kennedy roads, include existing wooded areas, a to-be-built orchard around a large swath of lawn and dense stands of trees planted atop tall sound-baffling berms along busy Kennedy Road.
Ryan subsidiary North Shore Builders will open a sales center in December at its Winnetka office and a model home on the Lake Forest site in the spring, Ryan said. Coldwell Banker's marketing arm, On Colllaborative, is handling the sales effort, which launches this week.
While acknowledging that the real estate market in Lake Forest has been slow for a few years, Ryan said "we believe we have a niche that is different from what's on the market." Single-story houses with exterior and landscape maintenance taken care of, and extensive shared open spaces, he said, "should appeal to the people who will spend most of their time in another state but want to keep a house in Lake Forest."
The Westleigh Farm property has 34 lots. The houses to be built on 26 of them will be priced from just under $1.1 million to about $1.2 million, Ryan said, with 2,400 to 4,500 square feet of space. Eight lots are being offered to buyers who want to build custom homes; the land-only prices are $575,000 to $750,000, Ryan said.
On the 34th lot (number 29 in the image below) is the original mansion, designed by Howard van Doren Shaw and built in 1905 for banker Charles Garfield King. King's socialite daughter Ginevra dated, corresponded with and then spurned Fitzgerald while they were both young, in 1915 through 1917, inspiring the story at the center of "The Great Gatsby," published in 1925.
The mansion, which has stood empty for at least a decade and has a kitchen and some finishes that are at least half a century old, is for sale with an acre and a half of land at $775,000. The rehab cost would likely run at least $1.3 million, Ryan said.
In 2007 the mansion was for sale on five acres at $6.5 million. The sellers, the heirs of a couple who bought the 47-acre site in 1954, eventually sold all the land and the mansion to Ryan's firm in May for $9 million.
Under terms of Ryan's development agreement with Lake Forest, if he can't get the mansion sold, down the line the village may consider approving demolition. Ryan said he hopes to sell the house soon at the present price.
Two other existing buildings on the estate, a stable and a small lodge, will be dismantled, Ryan said. Parts of them will be used in re-creations in new locations on the property, to be used as a community building and a maintenance-services building. In the community building, Ryan said, "we'll have photos and (memorabilia) as a tribute to the history of the property as a gentry farm and the connection to 'The Great Gatsby.'''
Construction of the first new houses will begin in December, Ryan said, and be ready for occupancy by late summer.
By Dennis Rodkin, Crain's