Old Town: The Baughers of Crilly Court



by Judy Carmack Bross




For the thousands who will visit the Old Town Art Fair on June 10 and 11, few will know the history of Crilly Court, a limestone row of Queen Anne style townhouses built in heart of Old Town in 1885 and first settled by artists in the 1920’s.  For two weekends, March 10-11 and March 24-25, Sophia C. DuBrul, founder of Sophia’s Estates Sales, will take you inside the home of one of the area’s most famous couples, the artist Norman Baugher and his late wife Shirley, a masterful chef and community historian, for the sale of their art collection, midcentury modern furniture, books and decor.


Painting by Norman Baugher


“It is always great to work in a home where the owners were creative people, passionate about their interests, and I am honored that Norman has authorized me to sell 100 of his paintings.  Norman explores so many styles and subjects, everything from the very abstract to the traditional. It’s easy to see why he has been a fixture of the Old Town art scene for so many years,” DuBrul said. “Shirley was an incredible cook and amassed over 2000 cookbooks which we will be offering for sale. She had a wonderful eye for decor and collected this great mix of traditional items, Asian antiques and decor, mid century modern furniture and folk art.”



“Highlights from the sale include an incredible, mid century rose wood buffet by Ole Wanscher for AJ Iversen, a Memphis chair by Gerrit Reitveld for Cassina, an extensive collection of Chinese pottery and porcelain, Mexican folk art by Manuel Jimenez Ramirez, an enormous collection of books, and of course, paintings by Norman Baugher,” DuBrul said. “Shirley knew how to put this eclectic collection together. For example, in the dining room, she put a Milo Baughman for Thayer-Coggin glass and chrome table and chairs with a 19th century inlaid chest and then filled the display shelves with a mix of Chinese pottery and African sculptures. And it all works. Her cookbook collection ranges everything from classic French to Asian to African to classics like Joy of Cooking.”


Some of the eclectic art collection


Sophia DuBrul


“The Ole Wanscher buffet is a real treasure. Wanscher was a mid-century Danish cabinetmaker, but his pieces look almost like Beidermeir. They are so timeless, and the lines are so clean,” DuBrul said. “The house itself is also a star, listed as a National Historic Landmark. It was once the home of Henry Gerber, an early activist for gay and lesbian rights and founder of the Society for Human Rights.”


The Ole Wanscher buffet


Paul Kuhn, a former neighbor who recently visited Baugher in his new Old Town residence, recalled their times on the block together.

“My late wife Jeanne and I moved to Crilly Court in 1973. In 1978, Norman and Shirley moved to the North Park Apartments across the courtyard–well, actually an alley, but a magical alley/playground/gathering place and sometimes cocktail lounge. 

“In 1985, a neighbor in a row house down the street revealed she planned to sell. We hurried to tell the Baughers, they hurried to our neighbor with a bid, and the rest is history. Speaking of history, Amazon carries four books by Shirley about Old Town. She also served as President of the Old Town Triangle Association and for years worked in the office. Norman continued the neighborhood artistic tradition, creating a dozen or so Art Fair posters in addition to the highly regarded paintings that grace many homes in Chicago.

“And then there was Shirley’s culinary flair. A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu, she had an intimate restaurant on Clark Street that became a favorite dining spot. The most sought-after Old Town invitation was for dinner at the Baughers, not for the food alone but also for the warm hospitality of Norman and Shirley. 

I know Norman will miss—and be missed—on Crilly Court, but selfishly I am delighted he will become a vertical neighbor in the Old Town highrise where we can both look down on the best street in Chicago. Norman told me how difficult it was to cope with leaving his marvelous home on Crilly Court after 38 years. Then he had an epiphany: his new high rise home is not a standard apartment. It’s an art studio with a bedroom!”


Crilly Court


In a past issue of Classic Chicago Magazine Old Town Triangle Association archivist, David Pfendler, pinpointed the neighborhood’s longtime artistic tradition:

“The presence of artists in Old Town goes way back to the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The city felt that Chicago’s cultural development wasn’t as rapid as that of Boston and Philadelphia, so the powers that be encouraged Lambert Tree to set up the Tree Studios near Michigan Avenue, where artists who had been part of the World’s Fair could both live in and have studios and galleries. 

“In the 1920s and ‘30s, that area became too expensive and artists came to Crilly Court because it reminded them of the Tree Studios. In the first 10 years of the Art Fair, at least 126 artists lived within our triangle area between Clark, North, and Ogden, and another 130 within a mile of the triangle.”





And as a community historian Shirley Baugher related in the same issue of Classic Chicago Magazine: 

“The first Art Fair did not begin as an art fair at all. It started in 1950 as a big neighborhood party, and it was called The Old Town Holiday. The first artists were actually party guests: neighbors, friends, volunteer workers, and a few outsiders. Neighbors served as both hosts and exhibitors. Participants displayed their art on fences and tables on Lincoln Park West and its two adjacent alleys.

“The first fair featured the work of 70 artists, and the term ‘art’ was loosely applied. Exhibitors showed everything from crocheted potholders to high-quality oils and watercolors. We featured only local artists, and now they come from all over the world. It was held for one day only. Neighbors put up their exhibits the morning of the party and took them down at the end of the day. The Fair now lasts two days and covers several streets.”


DuBrul added:

“Crilly Court is one of the most special little gems in Chicago. The townhouses on the west side of the street face a row of apartment buildings that are all named after Daniel Crilly’s children: Isabelle, Edgar, Eugene, and Erminie. In the 1940s, the courtyards were expanded and the iron balconies and railing were added which make the alley almost as special as the front. It’s like New Orleans.”


Since 2015, DuBrul has been offering premier estate sale and appraisal services to Chicago and the suburbs. Sophia has a degree is art history, a passion for antiques, decorative arts and sustainability. Sophia is also an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers.


To learn more about this fabulous sale and see all the pictures, visit www.sophiasestatesales.com.