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To combat misinformation, this writer decided to look at some of Evanston’s single-family housing stock. He and an architect colleague toured the City in four segments from end to end. The architect who helped is David Rodeman, a former student of this writer at UIC and subsequently a valued associate in his architectural practice until the writer’s retirement. The purpose of the survey was to determine how many single-family homes in Evanston are designed in the style of the Prairie School, how many Art Deco, and how many are pure, Bauhaus-style modern.
Row houses, attached homes and apartment buildings were excluded from the survey.
The results were enlightening. Most previous information bandied around was hearsay, such as “there are no modern homes in Evanston,” or “those flat-roofed Art Deco homes are all over the City” or “Prairie School style, like that of Frank Lloyd Wright, has always been a favorite.” None of these turned out to be true.
Starting chronologically, the Prairie School did not do so badly. A few Walter Burley Griffin homes are clustered around the intersection of Church and Ashland. He was an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright. Houses 1416 and 1631 Ashland Ave. are examples. Another very elegant, well-kept Prairie School product is at 1315 Forest Ave. by Tallmadge and Watson. It has a bridged-over side entrance where one may drop a passenger off and thence proceed to the garage.
At the northeast corner of Dempster Street and Ridge Avenue is the recently remodeled, grandiose house by Myron Hunt, built in 1898. At one time it was divided into two halves, but now it is back in its original shape.
The most faithfully restored and lovingly maintained Prairie School building, at 1024 Judson Ave., is another by Walter Burley Griffin. These last two houses are especially interesting because of their recent occupants. Half of the Myron Hunt house was the residence of Richard Whitaker, dean of the School of Architecture at University of Illinois-Chicago for many years, until his retirement to California. The Judson Avenue house was restored by its owner, architect Hans Friedman.
What followed the Prairie School and preceded the Modern was the short-lived Art Deco, a style easily recognized; it is flat-roofed and often painted white on its exterior with horizontal ribbon decoration. The Art Deco houses are on Wesley Avenue, three of them – 328-342 – lined up, one at 333 and another at 316 Wesley Ave.
Sheer serendipity led us to a non-architectural, yet uniquely impressive phenomenon: an entire block on Pittner Avenue north of Greenleaf Stree lined with magnificent red-leafed maples. The reader will no doubt be surprised by the scarcity of the three styles of homes examined. Even if allowance is made for a number of teardowns the number is small indeed.
The average Evanstonian, or American anywhere, did not know or care to seek out an architect. He found a builder, had him build a house like the one across the street and saved money that way.
Things have not changed much to this day.