In 1935, my grandparents, Frank N. and Mary F. (Peila) Laraia, ages 33 and 30, moved their family from a small home on 22nd Street in Melrose Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb largely populated by Italian immigrants, to a two floor, ~2400 square-foot home in next door Maywood. This was in the middle of the Great Depression and the asking price was $2500 dollars. They were far from wealthy, but thinking this price was unfairly low, my grandparents paid the seller another $2500 dollars. The house was built in sections, the first in the early 1900s by a father and sons named McGinn, who also worked on construction of the original St. James Catholic Church in Maywood, founded in 1908. Some unused stained glass pieces from the church were used on interior doors.
The McGinns, it seems, often enjoyed a wee nip. As testament to their skills, a small rose-colored pane in one of the doors was broken out during installation and replaced by a wood panel. No one remembers it any other way. Thank goodness it wasn’t one of us grandkids, or we’d have been sleeping with the fish.
The Window, situated in a foyer at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor, was not part of the church glass and was simply an elegant accent typical for homes of the period. Somewhere in all of the photos and film taken in the house over 80-plus years of family history, through the birthdays, graduations, weddings, Christmases and the births of six grandchildren, The Window must surely appear. I’m keeping an eye out.
Through all that time, The Window’s twin was left forgotten in the garage, stashed behind a piece of lumber nailed across two wall studs. It had probably been put there in the 1930s after being removed from a former exterior wall that had been enclosed by one of the additions onto the house. My grandmother wanted a real wall in its place. There it sat until 2016 when I found it while cleaning out the garage as we prepared the house for sale. Was I ever surprised!
The Twin bore the dirt and grime of decades and was recognizable only by its pattern. The sash that framed it was rough, heavy, dense old-growth lumber. There was no way I was going to lug this thing 500 miles home to Missouri in such a nasty condition, only to have it sit useless for 10 or 20 more years in my dirty, nasty basement. I looked through the listings for stained glass window restoration and found Altamira Art Glass in Oak Park, a suburb with a rich architectural history, thanks to its association with Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh, and I was born in Oak Park, too.
After a short talk with the owner, master craftsman Paul Damkoehler, I knew I had found exactly the right guy for the job. Not only did we share an interest in tall buildings, we had both been to the roof of the Amoco Building in Chicago, one of the most bizarre experiences you can have on a rooftop anywhere in the world. Paul said the adventure gave him the idea that visiting the roofs of other supertall buildings around the world would be a neat hobby. Did I have some stories for him!
Less than a month later, Paul and his group had beautifully restored the window, replacing some broken panes and mending the cracked ones with a copper foil technique. Rather than put another window sash around it, I had The Twin framed as a piece of art. I will let pictures and video tell the rest of the story.
Having passed The Window so many times as a kid, a teenager and an adult and after finally taking notice of it, I was sad to think I wouldn’t see it anymore once the house had passed out of the family. Now I am thrilled to have The Twin, which is hanging in the office of my home north of Kansas City. Paul has given it his 100-year guarantee. Of whatever things I might have wanted from my grandparents’ home, this is perhaps the greatest possession I could have received and one that I can enjoy every day.