Your friendly neighborhood state executive
Residents of coveted Ravenswood Manor say governor blends in
January 12, 2004
By MIKE RAMSEY
CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich may not live in the Executive Mansion in Springfield, but he does reside in "The Manor."
That's the nickname locals give Ravenswood Manor, an attractive residential pocket on Chicago's northwest side that is home to the 47-year-old governor, his wife and two young daughters. Dating back to the early 1900s, the roughly six-block area is within the 33rd Ward of Alderman Richard Mell, Blagojevich's father-in-law.
In some ways, it's a typical Chicago neighborhood, with a mix of simple bungalows, elaborate houses, "two-flats" and vintage apartment buildings. Many homes are just a few feet apart, but there are medium-sized
lawns and trees and gardens to counter the urban trappings of Montrose Avenue to the south and Lawrence Avenue to the north.
Property values are high, with single-family homes selling for between $300,000 and $700,000 or more. The mostly white population includes retirees, affluent professionals and kids.
At least a couple of features make Ravenswood Manor unique. The Chicago River's north branch borders the east - creating rare, coveted waterfront property - and the commuter train line that stops at Francisco Street near a row of shops is at ground level, not elevated like much of the city's rail system.
"I won't say we're a small town, but you almost have that small-town feel here," says John Friedman, 53, a past president of the Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association. "You have that feeling that everybody is welcome here."
Blagojevich, a native north-sider, bought in during the late 1990s while he was a congressman. The Democrat lives in a circa-1930 Mediterranean-style bungalow of three bedrooms along Sunnyside Avenue.
These days, an Illinois State Police car is conspicuously and constantly parked out front.
"It can't hurt," says longtime resident Donald Valentin, 67, a retired printer who lives a few blocks away. "I don't feel like I'm going to get mugged."
Neighbors say they catch glimpses of Blagojevich jogging with his security detail or coming and going in his chauffeured state car, a sport-utility vehicle with tinted windows. He reportedly made the rounds this past Halloween with his oldest daughter, Amy.
Richmond Street resident Holly Birnbaum says the governor's presence has "certainly spiced up interest in the neighborhood," but she thinks locals are used to it.
Other prominent Manor residents include state Sen. John Cullerton and film composer Aleric "Rokko" Jans. Going back further, Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein and Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman called the place home.
"(Blagojevich) is not the first significant person who's lived here," said neighborhood historian Richard Bjorklund, 72. "Most of the people who live here have their own lives to live. They're not interested in sucking up to the governor. He's neither fish nor fowl. I don't think he makes the neighborhood that much better, (but) it doesn't disrupt the community that much."