Gold Coast unit offers lake views, 24-hour door staff, butler’s pantry — and a flute-playing monkey

Edward Minieka’s taste in foyer decor has led to a squabble with his neighbors, whose unit had an active listing on redfin.com as of Friday.

SHARE Gold Coast unit offers lake views, 24-hour door staff, butler’s pantry — and a flute-playing monkey
UIC Professor Emeritus Edward Minieka stands in the foyer outside his Gold Coast co-op unit. He’s lived in the building since 1979, but has recently been told that he must get rid of the cherished paintings in the lobby — decor that existed long before he moved in and to which he has added through the years.

UIC Professor Emeritus Edward Minieka was recently told he must get rid of the cherished paintings in the co-op foyer.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Stepping into Edward Minieka’s Gold Coast co-op is like opening a window into Jane Austen’s 18th century England.

Faces of earnest, long-dead men stare out from gold-leafed frames. A plum-colored drape hangs from an archway beside the walnut casing of an English grandfather clock — the mechanism inside emitting a soft ticktock.

“I’m an auction junkie,” says Minieka, wearing a tweed jacket and reading glasses that dangle from a cord around his neck.

There are antique pianos, a baroque tapestry and a 17th century pieta carved from limewood.

But it doesn’t end there. As a teaser, visitors to the University of Illinois at Chicago professor emeritus’ co-op unit step off the elevator into a foyer where monkeys dressed like humans frolic on walls painted to look like marble.

And that’s the problem, say the couple who own the only other unit on Minieka’s floor. Their home has been on the market — for about $550,000 — and, they say, the dimly lighted lobby and its antique decor are just not helping sell the unit. Listed for sale since June 2021, showings were suspended Friday, according to the Chicago multiple listing service.

“I admire your enthusiasm for the lobby project completed so many years ago. I wonder if you could agree that it has had a very good run!” the woman who lives next door wrote in response to an email from Minieka explaining the history behind his cherished foyer.

“While I know it’s your taste and decor and the history is important to you, unfortunately, that is not the case for us or for the potential buyers who have come through thus far. We’d love to see a lighter, brighter space to welcome people stepping off the elevator.”

The woman said she and her husband were willing to pay for the paint.

And the co-op’s board of directors recently stepped in, saying it plans to come up with alternative décor schemes “in line with the aesthetic of the building.” If squabbling owners can’t agree, then the board picks one, according to the new rules.

But Minieka wonders why he must change a design that’s been a part of the foyer since long before he moved into the building in 1979 and that he has added to — with the agreement of past owners — through the years. He said he’s spent about $8,000 in total. That doesn’t include the price of the ornate French mirror in the foyer, which dates to the 1730s, he said.

“The artisans who worked on [the foyer] are established and well known. So it’s not like it’s a shabby thing,” Minieka said.

When the elevator doors open into his lobby, you step onto a stage “that has thrilled visitors for decades,” he says.

Minieka said he’s tried to explain all of that to his neighbors, who bought their unit in 2017.

“What bothers me is they have never taken the time to find out the historical background,” he said. “They just blew it off.”

The neighbors could not be reached for comment. Members of the co-op board either couldn’t be reached or declined to comment.

The neighbors’ unit, in its online listing, is awash in gleaming neutrals — described as an “elegant 2-bedroom, 2-bath home with the highest level of finishes.” There’s no mention of the painted monkeys in the foyer.

The neighbors have recently asked if Minieka would consider a compromise. He doesn’t see how that’s possible.

“This is a total package. I can’t just tweak it and change one thing. It’s going to wreck it,” he said.

He feels like he’s been painted into a corner, with no more options. After all, he says, there’s nothing in writing saying he had permission to paint his foyer — it was simply an informal agreement between like-minded neighbors.

“The board of trustees, especially in co-ops, have a great deal of authority, and short of some sort of written agreement allowing it — even if it was there for 40 years — the board still gets to choose. They could repaint it every year if they wanted. It’s a common area,” said Matthew Goldberg, a Chicago attorney who specializes in condo and co-op law.

Minieka says he has no plans to move. If the lobby décor must go, he jokes that he might even help out.

“I will have a big whitewashing party before [the painters] come,” he said.

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