A Classic Walk Down Astor Street
By Megan McKinney
This is the second segment of a report begun last week to recapture a walk down Astor Street made by Lost Chicago author David Garrard Lowe in 1987. Last week’s portion of our series ended at Burton Place, where the author of both Lost Chicago and Stanford White’s New York, edited by Jacqueline Onassis, commented on White’s spectacular Italian Renaissance house for Robert Patterson. This week we pick up with Joseph Silsbee’s design at 1443 Astor, below.
The Romanesque house at 1443 Astor by the underrated architect Joseph Silsbee.
After crossing to the east side of the street, David Lowe continues his assessment of Astor Street architects and architecture, “Joseph Silsbee designed this house in 1891. He was the architect that Frank Lloyd Wright first went to work for before Sullivan. This was built for the M.N. May family and is Richardson Romanesque. Silsbee was a contemporary of Sullivan’s and a superb architect who hasn’t really got the credit that he should get. Notice the late 19th century Chicago love of heavy stone. It has kind of a Germanic quality. It is all coming out of Richardson and is Romanesque Revival. The houses along here are varied, but they are in scale and it works quite nicely.”
1449 Astor on the east side of the street.
“These Astor Street blocks are a wonderful example of Chicago’s individualism. In New York they would be all very similar, probably either French or Georgian. Chicagoans always had this bravado. They would try anything. This street has incredible variety. Here we have Italian Renaissance in the Patterson house, Queen Anne in the Archbishop’s residence, Georgian houses, Romanesque. That is why we have no business destroying them because they say a lot about our city.”
David Lowe and the superb Art Deco town house at 1444, designed by Holabird and Root for Edward Russell.
“Here, across the street at 1444, is something so unbelievable. It is an Art Deco town house done by Holabird and Root for Edward Russell. It relates to the Palmolive Building that was designed by the same firm. It is a building of the late 1920’s/early 1930’s and it is that Art Deco style that came out of the Paris Exposition of 1925.
“It was an expression of the modern age and movement so that all that iron work was supposed to look like it was very fast and very streamlined. It is the kind of Twentieth Century Limited thing you might see in Paris. What a tribute to Chicago’s taste to see a town house like this. It is quite rare to see in America and it is very rare to see in a town house. I’ve never seen anything compared to it in New York.”
Walking further south on the west side of Astor, we approach 1416. “This is one of the great sad stories,” he says, gesturing to the exquisite Blair House, a walled garden next to it and the modern building beyond. “This house was once balanced on the other side of the courtyard by a house just like it.”
The Blair House at 1416 Astor is without its twin to the north, which was demolished for the construction of a modern high rise apartment building.
A typical “Eck Deutsch” house at 1412 Astor.
He continues as we walk a few doors south, first to number 1412, and on down a bit further. “This is typical Eck Deutsch, or very German—but here, at 1406, is a house that is totally French. It was designed for the Ryerson family by David Adler, one of Chicago’s best Beaux Arts architects, in 1921.
David Adler’s house for Joseph T. Ryerson.
“A drawing room runs across the front of the house at the second floor and behind it is a lovely oval dining room overlooking the garden,” he says of 1406. “This house also had a ground floor reception room. These rooms were always to the right of the front door and used for receiving people you did not invite to your drawing room; your doctor, your lawyer, your dressmaker.”
Charnley House, with its Louis Sullivan signature ironwork.
As we cross Schiller where Astor Street jogs to the west, David Lowe talks about Charnley House on the southeast corner. “Here we have one of the supreme buildings in Chicago. It was built by Sullivan in 1890 shortly after Wright had left Silsbee to work for him. This house is so interesting because they have taken the idea of the same Roman brick in that orange color that we saw in the Stanford White house and done it in a beautiful pattern. Here is the modern world being born.”
David Lowe’s Astor Street will conclude next week in Classic Chicago.
Selected images by László Kondor
Robert F. Carl