Garvanza’s “Jungle House” emerges into view after decades of neglect

Apr 10, 2012

"Jungle House" revealed after trees and bushes trimmed away. Photos by Nicole Possert

New owner Brad Chambers.

By Nicole Possert

One of the earliest and most significant properties in the Garvanza section of Highland Park  has been rescued and taken off the long-term “watch list” because of a new preservation-minded owner. Suffering from  decades of severe neglect and was hidden behind overgrown trees and bushes,  the property, known as the Dr. Smith home at the corner of Avenue  Avenue 63 and Garvanza Avenue next a Rite-Aid drug store, has been on the radar screen of neighbors and organizations like Highland Park Heritage Trust and the Garvanza Improvement Association.

“It is not owned by Rite Aid, is not scheduled for demolition, is not going to be turned into a commercial anything,” said  Brad Chambers, the new owner. “What it will be is a crowning victory for historic preservation because my intent is to preserve the property by embracing and preserving its original character and bring back the lush historic landscape reminiscent of Dr. Smith’s horticultural style.”

That lush landscape has gotten out of control in recent decades, with some neighbors referring to the property as the “Jungle House” because of the large trees and overgrown shrubbery that have obscured the Victorian home, which has proved a source of intrigue for many of those who visit the weekly Tuesday night food truck fest held in a parking lot across the street.

Built in 1886 the Victorian was the home of Dr. John William Smith, a physician, horticulturist and and leading community elder, from then until about 1937, reports Charles Fisher, local historian. The main house underwent a second story addition in 1925 and a second two-story home was built in the 1910 on the large property. It anchors the corner of Avenue 63 and Garvanza Avenue in the transition between commercial and residential.

Photo by Nicole Possert

“Dr. Smith was a community activist and the original founder of the Garvanza Improvement Association (GIA) in 1903,” said Fisher. “GIA was responsible for getting the City to pave the streets and replace the street trees that were removed when the curbs and gutters were installed. Dr. Smith was one of only two early physicians in Garvanza, the other being Dr. Franklin Whaley.”

To kick off the revitalization, the new owner, along with the help of the Garvanza Improvement, celebrated this past weekend with an open house to give neighbors a first-ever look inside the property that neighbors and fans of architecture have wondered about for so long. (The saga of this home’s journey to this point will be a future story.)

In a few short weeks since he took ownership, Chambers’ work crew has already filled up six large dumpsters of materials from inside the home as they begin the work, excavated trees and landscape that were in jeopardy and is preparing for a year-long renovation.  He estimated the renovation will take a year to complete.

Nicole Possert is a contributor writing about home and history. Questions or ideas? just email her at

* Possert is a board member of the Highland Park Heritage Trust

Dr. Smith's house before shrubber and trees were cut back.

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