History of the Nickerson Mansion: 2008

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2014.

Above: The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2014.

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum Opens to the Public

Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2008.

Restored Mansion to Reopen as a Museum: After 5 years of work, the Near North Landmark will showcase a collection of opulent furnishings

Soon after the Nickerson Mansion was built on Chicago's Near North Side in the early 1880s, its light-gray sandstone exterior became encrusted with soot and grime from nearby coal-burning factories.

More than a century later, that ornate facade was restored to its original color by laser treatment, part of a five-year restoration process that will culminate in the mansion's public opening next month as the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Driehaus, a Chicago investment manager well known for his efforts to preserve historic buildings, bought the Nickerson Mansion at Erie Street and Wabash Avenue in 2003. He then hired more than 150 craftsmen and designers to restore the building's inside and outside to its original grandeur. Driehaus declined to say how much the renovation cost.

"The way it looks now is how it probably looked the day the Nickersons moved into the house," said Kirby Talley Jr., the founding executive director of the museum and the leader of the mansion's restoration.

The three-floor, 24,000-square-foot mansion will also house items selected from Driehaus' personal collection that fit the Gilded Age decor, including several Tiffany lamps and light fixtures, sculptures and Victorian portraits. [...]

Samuel Nickerson, who made his fortune in the late 19th Century liquor trade, built his mansion to be fire-proof after losing an early business to fire.

The result was a building made up of "brick boxes," Talley said, faced with an impressive array of marble that earned the mansion the nickname of "The Marble Palace."

The house also features a stained-glass dome and ornate woodwork, all of it carefully cleaned, and in some cases, meticulously replicated by restorers. Talley also used more modern methods in the process, including the state-of-the-art laser-cleaning employed on the exterior.

[...] Driehaus said that he hopes opening the doors of the mansion to the public will expose today's Chicagoans to a more classic and elegant style of architecture and design.


"I think it is important that they're open, so people see and maybe can learn from it," Driehaus said. "Because otherwise they're learning just one side, the modern."