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The Miracle House, located at 2001 N. Nordica Ave. in the Galewood neighborhood, is seen in this photo, Dec. 4, 2020. The Landmarks Commission of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development gave the single family, mid-century home designed by Belli & Belli a preliminary landmark status.
The Miracle House in the Galewood neighborhood has been granted preliminary landmark status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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‘Miracle House’ on West Side on path to preservation

The house was built in 1954 by renowned Chicago architect Edo Belli.

It stands, like a crab in mid-scuttle, on giant steel legs.

And it stands out amid a sea of beige bungalows and ranch-style homes in the Galewood neighborhood on the city’s West Side.

As a kid living on the same block, 6-year-old Dan Lempa was entranced by the “Miracle House.” To him, it resembled “a giant grasshopper holding up a glass house.”

“It was amazing — it was just gorgeous,” said the 72-year-old Lempa, who has had a lifelong love for the place.

The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday showed some love of its own for the 4,500-square-foot building, voting unanimously to give the property preliminary landmark status — a first step that could lead to its permanent protection from any future demolition.

The mid-century modern building at Nordica and Armitage has a quirky history. It was built in 1954 as the grand prize for a raffle to raise money to pay for a new church, convent and rectory for the neighboring St. William Parish — hence the nickname “Miracle House.”

The architect, the late Edo Belli, was primarily known as a designer of church buildings. He had no interest in designing a house.

But the then-head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, a friend of the family, talked Belli into doing the project. When contractors got wind of the parish raffle, they began donating services and materials, said Belli’s son, Jim Belli, himself a semi-retired architect.

“The thing was promoted across the country. [The raffle] made a lot of money,” Belli said.

The Hollywood actress Kim Novak, who grew up in the neighborhood, was brought in to draw the winning ticket.

“My father said that when she walked in, every man in the audience sighed,” Jim Belli said.

The home’s genius stems from the two giant steel beams that act like a suspension bridge on which the rest of the house hangs.

Dr. David Scheiner, a retired general internist, is the current owner. Some two decades after he bought the place, he still gushes about it.

David Scheiner, who has lived in the the Miracle House since 1999, poses for picture in his dining room at 2001 N. Nordica Ave. in the Galewood neighborhood, Friday afternoon, Dec. 4, 2020.
Dr. David Scheiner has lived in the Miracle House since 1999.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Every time I walk into the house, my heart sort of skips a beat,” he said.

Sunlight pours into the house through curtains of glass 12 to 15 feet tall.

“It could be 10 degrees outside, but when the sun [floods] into the kitchen, it’s like 80 degrees — it’s like a terrarium. I have 10 orchids blooming,” he said.

The kitchen, incidentally, is on the second floor of the house.

Scheiner’s second wife, Margaret Creedon, died in 2014; she described the place as “Frank Lloyd Wright meets The Jetsons.”

Scheiner is 82 and has been pondering his own mortality recently.

“At 82, the Grim Reaper doesn’t stand that far away,” he said. Most of his children live elsewhere in the United States and beyond, he said.

Enter Lempa, who knocked on Scheiner’s door a couple of years ago and introduced himself. Lempa, a retired teacher and demolition contractor, had been taking a class on architectural preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lempa chose to research Scheiner’s house.

The two have become good friends and worked together — along with Jim Belli and Lisa DiChiera of Landmarks Illinois — to bring the Miracle House’s story to the attention of the city’s landmark commission.

When the commission voted to offer its preliminary support for the house, it brought tears both to Scheiner’s and Lempa’s eyes.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have happen,” Lempa said. “I’m a demolition contractor, but we have to preserve some of these amazing buildings.”

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