Twenty-seven Christmases ago, a cute little 8-year-old boy woke up to discover his family had inadvertently left him home alone while they all boarded a plane to spend the holidays in France. The house that Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister winds up defending from a pair of burglars — called the Wet Bandits — is a handsome Georgian home on a pretty tree-lined block in north suburban Winnetka.
Crain’s Chicago Business reporter Dennis Rodkin looks into the home’s cinematic history and the role it played on screen.
A starring role
The North Shore is littered with houses that played roles in movies by filmmaker John Hughes in the 1980s and 1990s: the glass house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is in Highland Park; the big, comfortable houses from Sixteen Candles and Uncle Buck are in Evanston; and the house that Steve Martin comes home to in Planes, Trains and Automobiles is in Kenilworth. But none of those played as big of a role in a movie as this three-story red brick home.
The house really is one of the co-stars of the movie, featured on screen from the very first shot after the movie’s credits and throughout the film.
On the outside, we see Kevin (played by Macauley Culkin) hurtling out the front door on a sled, the Wet Bandits slipping on steps that Kevin has covered with ice, Kevin crossing from the house to his backyard treehouse on a rope high in the air, and Kevin’s mom arriving in a truck filled with polka musicians.
And inside, Kevin rejoices that all the “jerks” in his family are gone like he wished, and he later sets up a series of booby traps to foil the Wet Bandits.
When the movie turned 25 in 2015, director Chris Columbus told Entertainment Weekly that casting the house was very important. He and his team drove around neighborhoods on the North Shore for weeks, he said, looking for a house that could host all the stunts and pranks that John Hughes had written into the script. For example, they needed a house with large windows for a scene where Kevin uses mannequins and a Michael Jordan cutout to make the house look lived-in.
At the same time, Columbus said, the house had to be “visually appealing and, if this makes sense, warm and menacing at the same time. It’s the kind of house if you were a kid it would be fun to be left home alone.” The half-acre lot size made it possible to get camera cranes and equipment onto the site. The space also helped shoot scenes in the backyard as well as the front as the Wet Bandits assault the house from all sides.
Columbus said the budget didn’t allow building a simulated exterior of the house on a soundstage. That meant they also had to get the neighbors on board because many of the outdoor scenes at the house happen at night.
“We would be shooting from like 5:30 at night to 6 in the morning,” Columbus told Entertainment Weekly. “I think that the lights and the actors shouting, and me yelling ‘Action!’ probably got on a few peoples’ nerves.”
A few of the neighboring houses played supporting roles in the film, too, like the first house that the Wet Bandits hit and another that was the home of the South Bend Shovel Slayer, who “back in ‘58 murdered his whole family and half the people on the block with a snow shovel.”
The slayer’s single-covered home from 1899 sold in 2003 for $3 million. It was back on the market in 2014 at $2.875 million and received a lot of press as “Old Man Marley’s house,” but didn’t sell.
The people who owned the Home Alone house when the movie was shooting in the late 1980s, John and Cynthia Abendshien, listed the house for sale in 2011 and appeared in a video with their real estate agent, talking about the Home Alone connection. In the video, the agent even does a little business where she reaches for the knob on the front door, then checks to see if it’s scalding hot, a reference to one of the ways Kevin kept the Wet Bandits from getting in. The agent said that if you buy this charming, well-located house, you can “leave your cares behind, not your family members.”
The couple sold the house in March 2012 for almost $1.6 million. The current owners aren’t as open to talking about the home’s place in cinematic history and politely but firmly declined to talk about it.