Charnley-Persky House Blog

  • Charnley-Persky House Has a New Boiler

    SAH News
    Oct 9, 2019

    HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) is not always the most glamorous house topic but is critical to the functioning and comfort of any building. The Charnley-Persky House, which serves as the headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians, was in desperate need of a new boiler to replace the aging and deficient boiler installed in 1987. During last winter’s Polar Vortex, the old boiler barely kept the house at 55 degrees, a dangerously low temperature that had the potential to quickly result in frozen or burst pipes, should the furnace fail. The 2017 Conservation Management Plan, funded by the Alphawood Foundation and completed by Harboe Architects, recommended the boiler replacement as a near-term priority project.

    The old defunct boiler, installed in 1987.

    If you are familiar with the house, the boiler room is in the north end of the basement and powers the many hot-water radiators located on four levels. The house’s original boiler was powered by coal, and the boiler room is situated directly across from one of two storage vaults, located beneath the sidewalk in front of the house. Two manhole covers allowed access for coal delivery. A feature seen in Charnley-Persky House (also seen in Wright’s early bootleg houses) are radiators cleverly concealed within the walls, under window benches, and suspended beneath the floor, with brass grates to allow airflow. Along with the house’s six fireplaces, the radiant heat was a major factor in facilitating the beginnings of an open floor plan seen in the house. The coal burning fireplaces are no longer in use, but much of the original hot-water heating system from 1892 is still intact and functioning.

    Due to the Charnley-Persky House’s 6,500-square-foot size and configuration, it was determined that the house needed not one, but two boilers for the heating system to function during extreme weather events and to safeguard the house from potential damage. Funds to replace the boiler came from generous contributions from Charnley-Persky House Board Members Cynthia Weese and Laurie Petersen, and donors to the November 2018 Giving Tuesday campaign. In addition, SAH staff hosted an open house and yard sale at CPH on July 27 that raised funds to support the project.

    Mark Nussbaum, Principal of Architectural Consulting Engineers, Oak Park, Illinois, which specializes in preservation and restoration of historic properties, assisted SAH in oversight of the project, ensuring that the work followed conservation guidelines, preserving the integrity of the house. 

    Y-tech Heating & Air Conditioning, based in Park Ridge, Illinois, began installation on the boilers on August 21 and took approximately three weeks. During that time, the crew disassembled the old boiler, removed it from the house, disconnected fuel lines and venting, and set about installing the new boilers. To accommodate intake and exhaust, the crew drilled four holes through four courses of brick on the east exterior wall of the building.

    The two-man crew from Y-tech Heating & Air Conditioning work on the installation of the new boiler system.

    Holes were drilled to accommodate intake and exhaust. The four courses of brick are so dense that it took one man an entire day to drill four holes. 


    The previous boiler was massive and took up most of the space in the boiler room. The two new boilers are affixed to the wall and are surrounded by a virtual forest of copper supporting piping, pumps, a water descaler, water tank, and pressure gauges. The system integrates with the house’s 19th-century circulating hot water heating system, and the two boilers work alternately, in rotation, so they both get equal wear.

    SAH is grateful to every friend of Charnley-Persky House for their donations to support the boiler project. Updating the mechanical systems in the house serves the larger goal of stewardship of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s joint creation that SAH is privileged to call “home.”

    new boilers 01
    The new boiler system at Charnley-Persky House integrates with the 19th-century circulating hot water heating system.

    copper pipes

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  • Conserving Charnley-Persky House

    SAH News
    Dec 4, 2018

    Charnley-Persky House at twilight, November 2018.

    In 2017, when SAH received the completed Conservation Management Plan for Charnley-Persky House, we decided to tackle some of the highest-priority items on the list of potential repairs and restorations. We’re pleased to announce that one of them has been completed. In November 2018, masonry specialists from Central Building & Preservation in Chicago, tuckpointed the four chimneys on the roof of Charnley-Persky House. Although the rest of the house had been tuckpointed in 2003, to the best of our knowledge the chimneys at the roof level had not been tuckpointed since the 1980s. As a result, water was infiltrating through the mortar and causing damage to interior plaster walls on the third floor of the house. The work was specified and supervised by Harboe Architects who also authored the Conservation Management Plan. The project was funded by a grant from the Landmarks Illinois Heritage Preservation Fund and proceeds from annual SAH Galas from 2010 to the present.

    Newly repointed chimney at Charnley-Persky House, 2018. (Gunny Harboe)

    Future bricks and mortar projects include repairing a low spot in the roof where rainwater pools and seeps into the house under the flashing around the atrium skylight, and replacing the antiquated HVAC system in the house. For Giving Tuesday on November 27th, 41 generous donors contributed $7,370 to help us purchase and install a pair of energy-efficient boilers that would replace the 1970s-era boiler that is unreliable in Chicago winters. Every donation was matched 1:1 by two challenge grants from Charnley-Persky House Board members Cynthia (and Ben) Weese and Laurie (and Mike) Petersen so the grand total raised to replace the boiler is $14,740. We extend our sincere thanks the Weeses and Petersens for issuing the challenge and to all who contributed to the Giving Tuesday campaign.

    Finally, also in November 2018 SAH completed a beautification project to light Charnley-Persky House at night. Funded by a generous grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, the improvements focused on installing a new LED lighting system that would be controlled through a central wireless hub that would allow SAH staff to control the lights remotely through a smart phone application. By installing new interior light fixtures in the main rooms of the house and exterior fixtures on and underneath the balcony, Charnley-Persky House now has a lighted façade at night and lighted rooms that create a warm lantern effect. The dual goal was to enhance the features of the house as only night-time lighting could and to contribute to the beauty of the nighttime streetscape in this historic Gold Coast neighborhood. 

    Parkway garden in front of Charnley-Persky House, June 2017.

    In a parallel effort, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust also funded landscaping of the two parkway areas in front of Charnley-Persky House. Since summer 2016 the small parkway gardens have featured shade-friendly plants and flowers that, like the lighting, enhance both the appearance of the house and contribute to the beauty of the streetscape. We are extremely grateful to neighbor Richard H. Driehaus who recognized that Charnley-Persky House could and should enhance its historic surroundings.

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  • Charnley-Persky House Conservation Management Plan Complete

    Pauline Saliga, Executive Director
    Oct 18, 2017

    On September 13 of this year, SAH celebrated the completion of a comprehensive conservation management plan (CMP) for Charnley-Persky House, SAH’s landmark headquarters building designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in 1891–1892. SAH opted to commission a CMP, which is a relatively new approach in the US to managing a historic structure, because we wanted a study that both acknowledges the significance of the building and serves as a planning tool for the long-term care and use of the site. It is a living document that will guide SAH’s decisions about restoration priorities and future possible uses.

    Charnley-Persky House exterior
    Charnley-Persky House exterior. Photo by Leslie Schwartz.

    Charnley-Persky House fireplace
    Fireplace on first floor of Charnley-Persky House. Photo by Leslie Schwartz.

    Although SAH prided itself on being a good steward of the house since it took ownership in 1995, a flash flood in 2014 caused significant damage to the building, which prompted SAH to commission an in-depth study of the house’s strengths and weaknesses. The year-long study, funded by a generous grant from the Alphawood Foundation, was managed by Chicago architectural firm Harboe Architects.  The 451-page study focused on the house’s history, description, significance, condition assessment, programming possibilities, and recommended policies. Additional studies were done to assess the condition of the house, including an interior finishes and paint color analysis, an HVAC analysis and blower door test of energy efficiency, temperature and humidity recording over time, and an engineering report on stairway and balcony deflection. The full report is available on the Charnley-Persky House website here:

    Charnley-Persky House Conservation Management Plan

    The major findings of the report state that the building is generally in sound condition with several high-, medium-, and long-range priorities. Highest priorities include repairing the 30-year-old skylight that leaks during rainstorms, replacing the boiler and air conditioning units that are at the end of their useful lives, and adding fire extinguishers and other public safety features throughout the building. Additional priorities include rerouting the plumbing that caused the 2014 flood and doing further study on the second floor staircase to learn how it is engineered and to devise a way to prevent further deflection. The cost for addressing the highest priorities is estimated at $209,500.

    Charnley-Persky House screen
    ​View of screen and second floor of Charnley-Persky House. Photos by Leslie Schwartz.

    Third floor of Charnley-Persky House
    ​View from third floor of Charnley-Persky House.

    We at SAH extend our sincere thanks to the Alphawood Foundation for funding the study and to Gunny Harboe and his team, particularly architect Tim Scovic, for managing the study and writing the CMP report. It will be an enlightened guide for our efforts to maintain the 125-year-old landmark entrusted to our care.

    Pauline Saliga
    Executive Director

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