Estates and Gardens of Chicago’s North Shore - 12 July 2008

| Jul 12, 2008

Estates and Gardens of Chicago’s North Shore
Baird Jarman

Day two began with visits to two major Prairie School homes by Frank Lloyd Wright. With Arthur’s voice whispering in our ears through radio headsets, we tiptoed around the Ravine Bluffs Development in Glencoe, where Wright designed a half dozen homes in 1915. We wended our way over Wright’s ravine bridge—his only bridge—to the Sherman Booth House with its dramatic setting along the edge of a wooded gorge and its striking interior woodwork.

Bridge entrance to the Ravine Bluffs Development (1915) by Frank Lloyd Wright

After this we traveled to the 1901 Ward Willets House in Highland Park, widely regarded as Wright’s first Prairie Style home, where we discussed the history of the house, its ongoing conservation, and its design innovations. Here Wright created an open plan with four arms branching out from a central brick hearth with multiple fireplaces. Art-glass windows are set into door frames that open onto a porch and allow the wall to disappear, thereby linking indoors with outdoors. A low-pitched, hipped roof with deep cantilevered overhangs appears here in Wright’s first fully realized vision of the Prairie Style.

The Ward Willets House (1901) by Frank Lloyd Wright in Highland Park

During the rest of the day we encountered our first structures by some of the leading, Chicago-based, domestic architects of the Country Place Era, such as Howard Van Doren Shaw and the brothers Irving and Allen Pond. We began with a ‘sawdust tour’ of the James Ward Thorne estate, designed by Otis & Clark in 1912, which is currently undergoing extensive renovation. While lunching we explored Shaw’s 1916 Market Square, an eclectic but largely Tudor Revival mixed-use development opposite Lake Forest’s railway depot.

The Lake Forest Market Square (1916) by Howard Van Doren Shaw

From this iconic suburban city beautification project we transitioned to a fine example of a Downing-inspired Italianate villa, the 1860 Devillo R. Holt residence, called the Homestead. An influential early figure in the Lake Forest community, Holt succeeded in having all businesses pushed west beyond the original railway boundary of the suburb. It is thus ironic that some people have explained the strange fact that the Homestead is a masonry structure covered with wooden clapboards as a subtle form of advertisement for his lumber business. In the library of the Homestead, a design debate over the likely date of an unusual set of built-in bookshelves displaying both Eastlake and Gothic Revival features was settled by trip participant Beverly Brandt, whose book on turn-of-the-century design criticism, The Craftsman and the Critic, will appear in print this fall.

The Homestead (1860) in Lake Forest

Next we viewed Thalfried, the 1909 Wheeler House, with its unusual pairing of high wainscoting and low Gothic arches, and where we first saw Pond & Pond’s distinctive, diamond-pattern, window sashes. After working in Chicago for William Le Baron Jenney and Solon S. Beman, in 1885 Irving K. Pond started an architectural firm with his brother Allen B. Pond. In addition to settlement houses, most notably Hull-House, Pond & Pond designed several elegant North Shore estates that blend Arts & Crafts influenced brickwork and woodwork with a more sparse, geometric, modernist façade treatment.

The Wheeler House (Thalfried, 1909) by Pond & Pond

Following a serendipitous stop at the Charles Dyer Norton House, we ended at Adler’s luxurious William E. Clow, Jr. House, with its Vienna Secession styling, high ceilings, expansive mirrors, and creative use of floor levels within a hilly lot. This structure is a fascinating example of Adler’s creativity and his ability to overcome difficult challenges with the site plan, namely a busy road adjacent to the property and a steep incline. A low wall covered with Greek key designs along the high-ground defines the perimeter of a courtyard for croquet while successfully screening off nearby road traffic. The Doric temple fronts that face onto this green space are actually the second floor of the structure, which is built into the hill. The main entrance, around the corner, brings visitors in on the lower floor of a two-story brick manor.

The William E. Clow, Jr. House (1927) by David Adler

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