Living at 860|880

Alexander Horn

Twofold Allure – History and the Lake

Treasured family history and the lure of the city drew Alexander Horn to Chicago.

His great-great-grandmother, Mary Keating Gorman, immigrated from Ireland and was a maid in the Marshall Field household. After Mary was widowed, her seven-year-old son, Sinon, worked as Field’s stable boy to help support the family. Sinon trained as a blacksmith and grew very successful; he opened the first auto garage in the Loop and helped establish of Our Lady of Peace parish on the city’s south side. Sinon’s wife, Loretta Walsh, was a talented musician who played the organ for Father Arnold Damen, the namesake of Damen Avenue.

The corner of State Street and Madison Avenue in the Loop has been designated “Edward Brennan Way” in honor of another relative. In the early 1900s, Horn’s cousin was instrumental in establishing that intersection as the center point for Chicago’s street numbering system.

Another great-grandfather, Joseph Larweth, was a National Park District engineer who helped design the Skokie Lagoons to mitigate Chicago River flooding.

Joseph’s son Anthony, Horn’s grandfather, was an expert welder who labored in Hyde Park on a top-secret project, the reactor core for the first nuclear submarine.

Visiting his grandfather Anthony and his many Chicago cousins was a significant part of Alexander Horn’s childhood. So, after graduating high school in Sycamore, 60 miles west of Lake Michigan, Horn moved to the city.

Living in his grandparents’ suburban house while working and going to college enabled him to save for a down payment on a place of his own. “How close to the lake can I get, and how up can I go?” were two important criteria. After about ten months of shopping, Horn arrived at the bottom of his list: 880 North Lake Shore Drive. “It was my last choice, but once I saw it, I was sold,” he said. The monthly assessment for the cooperative at first seemed a bit high compared to the condominiums he had been considering. But upon realizing that taxes, utilities, common area maintenance expenses, and the mortgage on the property were all included in the monthly payment, Horn recognized he’d found a great deal.

The September 2010 day he closed on his unit, Horn, a computer engineer, got a job offer from the University of California in Los Angeles. But he was content in his new home and neighborhood. He especially liked how he had replaced an hour-long commute via train with a route he could easily bike or walk. Soon Horn began working for UCLA remotely, writing software as part of National Science Foundation-funded research into future Internet Architecture. After graduation, he relocated to California to facilitate the project, renting his 880 unit for one of the two years he worked Los Angeles. In 2015, Horn was happy to leave LA traffic behind and return to Chicago. He undertook graduate studies in predictive analytics at DePaul University and began a job at Willis Tower, where a bike valet service awaited his 10-minute commute.

“I got the sailing bug in L.A.,” Horn confessed. He quickly found a midwestern remedy, renting a laser sailboat out of Montrose Harbor to take advantage of favorable winds. “I had assumed sailing in Lake Michigan would pale in comparison to the ocean,” he said, “but the lake is much less predictable.” He has kayaked the lake and is laying plans to master a stand-up paddle board. “It would be so easy to pick up the board, carry it across the drive, plop it in the lake and take off.

“The lakefront is a big deal, a great asset here,” Horn noted. “It gives you a totally different feel for a city.” And he thinks the clop-clopping noise of horses along the buggy-ride route past 860-880 Lake Shore Drive lends a rural charm to the neighborhood.

Easily enumerating “things I love about the building,” Horn first mentions the top-notch maintenance staff. “One doesn’t know how much that matters until one moves in. It’s fine-tuned, and it makes for a healthy building. The whole management system here is consistent, it’s very well-run.” He appreciates the creature comforts of the building, from radiant flooring to robust water pressure, and the many healthy plants in his unit join him in basking in the plentiful natural light.

While living in a building with an architectural pedigree was never a goal, Horn has long appreciated Mies van der Rohe and other Bauhaus associates for their contributions in art and engineering. “The building’s pedigree is definitely an advantage,” he said. “As a first-time home buyer, I got lucky. Unlike new construction, which just ages, these buildings only grow more distinctive.”

Today, looking from his front door eastward over Lake Michigan stirs warm memories of family. “Grandpa Larweth told me how he and his brothers used to swim to the pumping stations just for fun, so every time I see them, I think of him.”

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