Glessner House Fetes a Kenilworth Garden Party



By Judy Carmack Bross




Kenilworth Assembly Hall terrace and grounds
Angelina and Wesley Campin

We toast Prairie Avenue’s Glessner House gala committee for taking its expertise on Chicago style to Kenilworth recently where an alfresco afternoon was one of the most enchanting summer events to date. Celebrating the 160th anniversary of the birth of architect George W. Maher, regarded as one of the most significant and innovative architects in his day, on par with Frank Lloyd Wright, the afternoon garden party showcased the Kenilworth Assembly Hall he designed and encouraged walking tours in the town where his home and the largest concentration of his works are located.

Tim Miller and Pam Wagner

With icy lemonades and sparkling wine on the terrace, guests could choose to visit the exhibition across the street at the Kenilworth Historical Society on “Centennial Homes: 1889-1924,” or step into the Sears family log cabin playhouse originally built behind the Sears house at 1815 S. Prairie Avenue in the 1880s, later moved to Kenilworth, then to Northbrook, and back to Kenilworth in 1968.

Ann Beletire and Todd Davis.

Barry Sears with his family log cabin


Afterwards, Honorary Gala Chair Barry Sears, grandson of Kenilworth founder Joseph Sears, shared thoughts on his family, including:

“Joseph Sears was born in Lockport, IL in 1843 – an exact contemporary of John J Glessner. He was a soldier in the Civil War. Then came a long career with N K Fairbank & Co. – he was listed as “Superintendent” in a 19th century telephone book I once saw, back in the day when job titles were included with addresses. Retiring at about 45, he pursued his dream of an ideal village, which had been nurtured during business and family trips to England.

“Joseph Alden Sears, my father, who went by Alden, was born in 1883. I like to think he was of the last generation of Americans who needed horses to get somewhere.

“Alden Sears, Yale ’05, was an engineer working for GE electric transit until his father died in 1912. His new assignment: turning unsold Kenilworth lots into cash for far-away ranchers and underpaid musicians and teachers, keeping him busy for many years–with a break for service as a captain in WWI.”

Valerie and Michael Foradas

James and Mary Glerum

Barry Sears added a log cabin postscript:

“Joseph Sears installed on his Prairie Avenue lot a log cabin as a playhouse. It followed the family to Kenilworth in the early 1890s. After the Sears house in Kenilworth was destroyed by fire in 1945, it was moved to Northbrook. It arrived as logs, carefully marked by Alden, who added a modern fireplace. Winter overnights and a lot of wire-basket popcorn ensued. I and my sister Polly Sears Foley gave it to Kenilworth when the Northbrook property was subdivided in 1968. A local newspaper pictured it under way with the caption ‘Cabin Cruising to Kenilworth’.”

Bill Parke, Peggy Snorf, Carlyle Madden, Todd Schwebel

John and Joan Blew

William Tyre, Glessner House Executive Director and Curator, told us afterwards:

“I am so grateful for everyone who supported Glessner House through their participation in our 2024 gala. Celebrating architect George W. Maher was the perfect way to fulfill our mission of sparking excitement in architecture, history, and design. Maher’s masterpiece, the beautifully restored Kenilworth Assembly Hall, was the perfect space in which to honor this important but often overlooked architect.”

Jack and Susan Tribbia

Jennie and James Caulfield

The event netted over $100,000 including more than $30,000 during the paddle raise. The paddle raise matched a $30,000 gift, in memory of Chicago preservationist Terry Tatum, to rebuild the original stone sidewalk leading to the front door of the house with a total project of $60,000.

Christine Poggianti and Anne Hill Bird

The afternoon program took guests inside for shrimp, sliders and shots of chilled soups and then to hear Christine Poggianti, chair of the Restoration Committee for the first six years, provide highlights of the restoration of the Hall. Former board member Gwen Sommers Yant introduced the John and Frances Glessner Award winner, architectural historian Susan Benjamin who was honored for her half-century of service to the study and preservation of historic architecture in and around Chicago.

Susan Benjamin, left, with presenter Gwen Sommers Yant

In accepting the award, Susan Benjamin in turn paid tribute to Glessner House:

“I owe the beginning of my personal and professional life to the Glessner House. My first job in architectural history, fresh out of
graduate school, was as an “administrative assistant,” to Richard Wintergreen, one of the founders of the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, currently the Chicago Architecture Center, which was established to purchase and preserve the Glessner House. I set up tours, arranged meetings, basically doing anything that was needed.

“There I met Wayne Benjamin. who, along with Richard and Paul Lurie, set up the Foundation. Wayne was treasurer of the Board and paid my salary!  (Did paying me become habit forming?)  We talked on the phone a lot and finally met at a party in the library of the house that Marion Despres and I had swept and dusted for the evening.

“Some sparks flew and he asked me for dinner at the Cape Cod Room in the Drake. The rest, as they say, is history.  Something took–because we have been married 55 plus years.”

Jane Lepauw and Wayne Benjamin

Jean Follett and Gala Chair Nancy Hornak

Committee members included: Nancy Hornak, Chair, Deneen Marie Bryce, Maria Corpuz, Cari Dudich, Lisa Koenigsberg, Francesca Peppiatt, Tori Simms and William Tyre. Simms serves as President of the Glessner House Board of Directors. Upcoming Glessner House programs and events include “How Both Halves Lived: Exploring the Pullman Legacy” on Saturday, July 13 and August 10; “Exploring Kenilworth and the Legacies of Joseph Sears and George W. Maher”, on Sunday, August 4; a Hutchinson Street Historic District Walking Tour, on Saturday, September 7, the annual “Walk Through Time” tour of Prairie Avenue houses featuring the interiors of several privately owned historic mansions. Jazz and classical concerts will also be presented this summer at beautiful Glessner House courtyard.

Anne and Zachary Lazar

Cynthia Bates and Eleanor Esser Gorski

Photos by: Adam Marcantoni

For further information on Glessner House and its upcoming programs visit: info@glessnerhouse,org

Richard Yant and Gwen Sommers Yant

Adam Rubin and Julia Bachrach