The Castle, a real animal house, at 1623 W. Estes in Rogers Park
The Castle, a real animal house, at 1623 W. Estes in Rogers Park Credit: Web Behrens

Neighbors started talking about Rogers Park’s leopard-print residence soon after co-owner Michael O’Reilly painted it 11 years ago. And it didn’t take long for a rep from the alderman’s office to come knocking; Matt Gleeman Long, who owns the house with O’Reilly, assured the official that they weren’t running some sort of exotic petting zoo.

The outlandish facade befits the address’s residents, a quirky, artistic, LGBTQ-friendly group. (Full disclosure: I joined that roster in 2011.) The original denizens (three of whom still live at the home) decided that a whimsical house needed an appropriately odd name; they dubbed the place Roger Spark Presents Wes Testes’s Faerie Castle: Asbestos-on-Estes. But everybody calls it simply the Castle.

Inside, the decor is more mild than wild. The fact that the interior is not also decked out in animal prints disappointed some producers scouting for The Nate Berkus Show. But the Castle has hosted some epic parties, especially for Halloween and Pride. An April Fools’ Day brunch in ’07 masqueraded as a faux real estate open house; the residents planted a sign on the front lawn listing the sale price at $401,000—a wink to the date. Developers had been sniffing around the block, and O’Reilly got one particularly galling offer: a single condo unit in a nearby building in exchange for the entire Castle. “So that was my [riposte],” O’Reilly says. “We’ll pretend it’s on sale.” As strangers walked in the door, everyone hollered, “April Fools’!”

Still, the prevailing theory that the eye-popping exterior was a response to gentrification is only partially true. “There were six people living here at the time,” O’Reilly recalls, “and in order to reach consensus on what color to paint the house, we had to reach farther and farther outside of the box. It was intended as sort of a hybrid between jaguar and leopard—and it turned out giraffe.

“I keep threatening the next time I paint the house, it’s going to be Burberry plaid, because that’s more conservative.”

Don’t know what that place is?