David Adler Alert!




By Judy Carmack Bross



Thomas Gleason and Kristin Noelle Smith in gallery of McCormick Blair home


New documentary on PBS Chicago this June


David Adler: Great House Architect, a four-part documentary highlighting the life, clients, and classical architecture of the man often known as “Chicago’s society architect”, will be broadcast each Friday night in June on PBS Chicago’s WTTW Prime channel thanks to the vision of Kristin Noelle Smith, producer and host. This series features interviews of experts on location at four separate Adler estates, including two in Lake Forest, one in Lake Bluff and another in Ipswich, Massachusetts. https://schedule.wttw.com/series/33131/David-Adler-Great-House-Architect/


Producer and Host Kristin Noelle Smith


Castle Hill in Ipswich, Massachusetts


Smith told us:

“David Adler’s designs of mostly homes, over 45 in all, are an elegant, eclectic, American blend of a wide range of classical styles, for the upper levels of affluency: Industrious entrepreneurs, merchants, financiers, and manufacturers whose contributions to everyday living were invaluable. They could’ve hired anyone, they selected David Adler.”

Kristin chose homes for the series to reflect the wide variety of his styles from 1925 to 1934 during the “Great House period.” From 18th century French chateaux to Italian Renaissance villas, to Georgian structures, American and Spanish colonial houses, and even an English half-timbered mansion. Adler’s great houses were built on a grand scale, originally on large, landscaped properties. “He could do anything,” she said.

Episode 1, to be broadcast on June 3 at 6:30 pm and 11:30 pm, focuses on the Crane Mansion in Ipswich, Massachusetts, which is open to the public. Author and Curator, Susan Hill, is the guide. Adler was inspired by 17th century Belton House and Ham House in England. He used architectural salvage from the Earls of Essex library created by the ‘Kings’ Carver’, Grinling Gibbons, along with woodwork from a 1732 London townhome. Smith shares the photos below.


Curator Susan Hill Dolan with Kristin Smith at Castle Hill Library


On Episode One:  A beautiful interior at Castle Hill


“I initiated this documentary because there is great beauty in Adler’s work and think more people would enjoy knowing of it. Let’s help preserve architecturally significant buildings for future generations so that they can continue to inspire. These buildings are 90-100 years old and this is a good time to underscore their importance. The historic preservation process begins through education, often not provided in schools,” Smith said. “David Adler: Great House Architect was created to support this mission.”

Series filming was completed before COVID, but the editing was delayed for months as research libraries such as the Ryerson & Burnham Library at the Art Institute and the Adler Arts Center in Libertyville were closed.

Kristin has her B.A. and M.B.A. from Northwestern University, as well as a degree in which she studied decorative arts, histories of architecture and furnishings. She currently serves as Executive Director of the American Friends of Versailles, which is based here in Chicago. Interestingly, David Adler visited the Chateau de Versailles and was directly inspired by La Lanterne a residence within its park, which is now a retreat for the President of France. “In 1923, Adler designed ‘La Lanterne’ the Carolyn Morse Ely house in Lake Bluff. It was originally built on a 17-acre plot and was definitely influenced by its namesake at Versailles,” she said.

Her love of his classical architecture began early. She was first introduced to David Adler’s timeless work as a college student when invited by friends into homes he designed in Lake Forest. Struck by their particular allure and glamour and motivated by her Francophile tendencies and appetite for history, she set out to learn all she could about Adler, pouring over texts and eventually viewing a museum exhibition on him, and, in the process, became even more enamored of his beautiful, timeless work.


 Young David Adler


The Milwaukee-born Adler (1882-1949) studied architecture in Munich and at the prestigious Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. He travelled extensively through Europe and England with his sister and then wife Katherine collecting information and architectural salvage to use in his commissions back in the States.


David and Katherine Adler with Marshall Field III


Tragically, Katherine died in an automobile accident in Normandy, France in 1930 at the age of 37. They had no children.

At least 12 of his works are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Smith comments that Adler’s works are known for “symmetry, grandeur on a human scale, meticulous details, architectural salvage and a wide variety of historic inspiration.”

“His was a bygone time when the affluent employed live-in staff of butlers, chauffeurs, gardeners, and maids, and there were pastry rooms, flower rooms, pressing rooms and more,” Smith said. “He had such exquisite taste. I would have loved to have visited the townhouse he built in New York City for Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field III, but unfortunately it has been razed. Many of the larger estates, such as the Lasker property in Lake Forest, have been split up.”

Kristin discovered, perhaps due to Adler’s historicism, his reticence about publicity and the private nature of his affluent clients that, among notable architects, he is often overlooked. In addition to the documentary, Smith recommends the books on Adler, and gives much gratitude to all the participants.



“We incorporated original floor plans and elevation drawings of these four houses, often folded tightly, ripped or torn but of much significance,” Smith said.

She shared photos from Adler’s American, early 19th century-styled estate, “Port o’Call,” designed in 1926 for the William McCormick Blairs in Lake Bluff. Featured in Episode 2, entitled, “Training,” it will appear on Friday, June 10th with a guided tour by its Collections Manager, Thomas Gleason. The home is not open to the public.


On Episode Two:  Port o’Call” designed for the William McCormick Blairs in Lake Bluff in 1926


On Episode Two:  Topiaries at Port o’ Call


Episode 3 on June 17, entitled “Career,” invites viewers to tour Adler’s French Norman 17th century-styled residence “Innisfail II” in Lake Forest and includes an interview with owner and renowned architect Adrian Smith and his son, the real estate developer Jason Smith. The home is not open to the public.


On Episode 3: Cudahy 1930. Orangerie


On June 24, Episode 4 concludes the series, “An Era Ends,” and features Adler’s Georgian residence “Wheeler,” built in Lake Forest in 1934. Author and librarian, Arthur H. Miller, takes viewers on a tour of this private residence.


On Episode 4: From the Georgian Wheeler House, 1934, in Lake Forest 


“He was one of the last great eclectic architects and always used the finest craftsmen, but he is overlooked in the pantheon of Chicago architects time after time. People need to be exposed to more beauty in their environment, and Adler’s greatness needs to be shared to an even larger audience,” Smith summarized.

Many congratulations to Kristin Noelle Smith whose documentary fulfills her mission. Get further details at adlerarchitecturefilm.com

Don’t miss the series David Adler: Great House Architect airing each Friday in June at 6:30 p.m. and again at 11:30 p.m. on PBS Chicago’s WTTW Prime channel 11.2, Comcast 367 or 370 and RCN 37.