There are probably two things that come to mind when Chicagoans hear Ravenswood Manor: rows of historic houses set on picturesque tree-lined streets and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Last week, the disgraced politician returned to his Northwest Side home after President Trump commuted his 14-year prison sentence. Blagojevich had served eight years for multiple felony charges—including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
A crowd of supporters and reporters gathered outside the Blagojevich residence, which has become famous (or infamous) in its own right. This was the exact spot where FBI agents swooped in and handcuffed Blagojevich 11 years ago. And the home’s raised entrance along Sunnyside Avenue has served as the backdrop for countless press conferences.
Here’s a closer look at the story behind Ravenswood Manor’s most notorious address.
The “fortress-like” building looks like a bungalow on steroids
Resembling a supersized classic Chicago bungalow, the sturdy brick home was constructed “like a fortress,” according to previous listing notes. Spanning 3,817 square feet, the five-bedroom residence also features somewhat unusual Mediterranean revival style ornamentation on its exterior. “It was built in 1929 by a man building high-rises along Lake Shore Drive,” Rod’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, explained to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2011. “When the economy slowed down, he built this house for himself.”
The Northwest Side property served as the de facto governor’s mansion
Instead of choosing to move into the state’s official executive mansion in Springfield after he was elected in 2002, Blagojevich opted to remain in Chicago to be close to the base of his political power. The notoriously poor condition of the downstate property likely made Blago’s decision to stay up north even easier. Repairs to Springfield’s leaky executive mansion were finally completed in 2018 as part of a $15 million renovation overseen by then-Governor Bruce Rauner.
The Blagojevich family tried to sell it for over a million
After being found guilty on more than a dozen federal corruption charges, Blagojevich and his family revealed plans to unload the Ravenswood Manor property. Selling the home was “an economic necessity,” the ex-governor’s attorney told members of the press following a court hearing in July 2011. “If anyone’s watching this and is interested in a nice house in Ravenswood, contact the Blagojeviches.”
Patti Blagojevich, a licensed real estate agent, officially listed the home a few months later with an initial asking price of $1.07 million. The price tag was reduced slightly to $998,000 by December 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported, but the house never found a buyer. The family had paid $505,000 for the property in 1999, records show.
Many neighbors were happy to see Blago back home
Despite the three-ring media circus covering the ex-governor’s return disrupting an otherwise quiet residential street, neighbors seemed mostly pleased to see the ex-governor come home, reported Block Club Chicago. “I have tears in my eyes. I’m thrilled. It was way too long,” one neighbor told the publication. Local residents rolled out signs and banners welcoming Blagojevich back to the neighborhood.
Ravenswood Manor has a rich architectural history
The Blagojevich residence is far from the only historic home in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood, which was established in 1909. Spanning roughly 60 acres from the Chicago River to Lawrence, Montrose, and Sacramento avenues, the district landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 for its collection of handsome, 100-year-old brick and stucco homes.
Troubled by a recent wave of tear-downs and beyond-recognition renovations, some residents have pressured the city to create a new Chicago Landmark District to protect the area’s architectural charm. Such a designation would likely include the Blagojevich residence and protect it from demolition or receiving the sort of pop-top additions that have altered other bungalows in the area.