David Lowe’s Vision for Chicago

                         With the Finale of the Astor Walk





By Megan McKinney


1260 North Astor Street.


This is the third segment of a report begun two weeks ago recalling a 1987 walk down Astor Street with Lost Chicago author David Lowe. Completing this final portion is an addendum containing David Lowe’s 1987 view of what he feels Chicago might have been and what it could be.

Last week’s segment concluded at Charnley House and this portion picks up with Howard Van Doren Shaw’s stunning Goodman mansion.


“A very grand town house” designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw for the Goodman family.

“This house,” David Lowe begins, “was designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw for the Goodman family in a restrained Adam style right out of Grosvenor Square in London. It is a very grand town house with this beautiful black Belgian marble in the entry. The drawing room goes all the way across the front of the second floor. Howard Van Doren Shaw not only did the house for them, he did the theater in memory of their son and their tomb in Graceland Cemetery.”


To the left is the house in which John Wellborn Root died. 

We cross to the west side of Astor. “This is one of the great shrines of all time in Chicago,” David Lowe gestures toward 1208-12 Astor. “John Wellborn Root designed these three houses in 1887 and he died in one of them.”

Of the soaring sister buildings at Goethe, 1260 and 1301 North Astor, he remarks, “These two great limestone art deco apartment houses by Philip B. Maher in 1928 and 1931 are a celebration of modern design, height and great materials.”


1260 North Astor Street.

1301 North Astor Street.

After we walk past Scott Street and south, he points up to 1200 North Astor, the Holabird and Roche apartment building on the northwest corner at Division. “This is one of the greatest old apartments in Chicago. It was one of the first important high-rise buildings in 1897 and it is the memory we have of all the wonderful Holabird and Roche buildings that used to exist in the Loop and were destroyed. These bays, which were used for decoration in England, are in Chicago done to get air. They not only help to catch the breezes but they also deflect the strong Chicago winds.”

The Holabird and Roche apartments at Astor and Division.


We are at the foot of Astor Street, as well as at the conclusion of our scheduled walk; however it will not be the end of the afternoon with this delightful man.  We are not going to miss an opportunity to learn David Lowe’s vision for Chicago.


David Lowe’s Chicago, 1987


“Chicago is the only city in America that has used its natural resource, which is the lake, properly. The interesting landscape of Chicago is totally artificial, the offshore islands, the lagoons and all this park that you see. The one thing that Chicago does not have—the one thing that I would add—is a mountain. The right time to do it is now, in lieu of a 1992 World’s Fair. I would put it on a point of land north of here, probably at Belmont Harbor. I would have every Chicagoan bring a pail of dirt and, when it was finished, I would put a lighthouse on it and name it Mount Chicago. It should be about 25 stories high—remember Daniel Burnham said, ‘Make no little plans.’”

“I would move the Saint-Gaudens statue of Lincoln and place it facing LaSalle Drive a few feet in from the curb. It should be banked with a whole panoply of flags behind it and spot lit at night. A by-product of the replacement would be that graffiti would be discouraged.”

“If there had been proper zoning in Chicago, the high-rise buildings would have been limited to Lake Shore Drive and west beyond Dearborn. Forcing the high rises west would have made that an attractive, desirable area. The neighborhood between the Drive and Dearborn would have been a green belt. That is what an urban landscape should be.”

“Since so much of Chicago is man-made, another thing they should have done was to dredge a canal to an artificial lake about five blocks west of Astor Street. Everyone wants to be on the lakefront. They could have built high-rise apartments around the artificial lake and had small boats on the canal. Everyone would have loved it. It would have been a way of pulling the lake in. After all, all those lakes and lagoons that Olmstead did on the South Side are artificial.”

“There should be historic plaques on houses throughout the Near North Side. For instance, we should see a plaque on the Archbishop’s residence commemorating the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II. Adlai Stevenson came out and gave a press conference in front of Blair House on Astor when he was nominated for President. There should be a plaque. Chicago should push itself more. There should be a sense of reverberation as there is when you are in London and you know it is the city of Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill, or in the Paris of Volaire.”


“A sense of history would be reinforced by street names. It is odd that we have two Germans honored right here in this neighborhood, Goethe and Schiller, but there is no Sullivan Street, no Wright.”

This concludes Classic Chicago’s series on David Lowe’s Astor Street. The three week sequence of articles was reproduced from a feature in the July 1987 issue of AVENUE M magazine, courtesy of Frank Sullivan, publisher of AVENUE M, and David Garrard Lowe, president of the Beaux Arts Alliance.

Selected images by László Kondor

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl