Three Generations of Brilliant Entertaining
The William Waller house is now home to the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, an extraordinary Chicago amenity on North Dearborn.
By Megan McKinney
Almost immediately, ownership of famous Chicago residences had become a pattern for the Waller family. In 1874, William, the eldest of the four Waller brothers, and his wife, Ann Adelia Johnson, a Louisiana belle, moved into a handsome mansion built for them on North Dearborn Street. The house, which continues to attract attention today, is notable for its Italianate design, featuring a stone double bay façade, bracketed and ornamented cornice, arched windows and decorative keystones. Now home to the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, the lovely exterior of the house is largely unchanged. Inside, airy parlors with 14-foot ceilings display the work of academy members, and the top floor ballroom is a group studio where life classes are held. In the fine Kentucky tradition, gardens continue to bloom in front and back of the house. The estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Life classes replaced the famous Waller entertaining in the top floor ballroom.
Art became a reality in the family itself in 1882, when William Waller II married Louise Hamilton, daughter of lumber merchant I. K. Hamilton and a talented Chicago amateur known for her sketching ability. The couple was married at the Indiana Avenue home of the bride’s parents in a typical society wedding of the time, with the house transformed into an interior garden for the noon ceremony.
Johnny Hand, the Stanley Paul of his day, was situated in the rear south parlor with his orchestra. When they began the wedding march, the entire bridal party—including ushers, bridesmaids and the couple’s parents—solemnly filed into the drawing room in pairs. The bride, in a gown of white ottoman silk and diamond jewelry, entered last, meeting the groom and the Rev. Dr. Clinton Locke under a wedding bell of flowers. After the ceremony, the newlyweds and best man, the groom’s cousin Jim Waller, led the guests into the dining room for the bridal dinner.
The newlyweds would quickly emulate the groom’s parents, becoming notable hosts in a fine house within Chicago’s Gold Coast.
The house on Banks Street, where the second generation of William Wallers entertained with gusto, stood for many years in the shadow of Andrew Rebori’s gracious apartment house at 1325 Astor.
The young Wallers were soon one of the most visible and socially active couples in the city, continuing to celebrate in the well-established hospitable family tradition. While their children, William III, Amy and Louise, were growing toward adulthood, they hosted gatherings on their behalf almost incessantly, often giving parties for 200 or more young people.
In the next generation, the William Wallers III entertained as relentlessly as his parents had, and, like Louise and William II, it was often on behalf of their children. During the 1930s, while they were at their Palm Beach winter estate, Casa Manana, William III and his wife, Lucia Thatcher, gave parties both in the spacious villa and at the Everglades Club. During spring break every March, their children would journey down from school to house parties at Casa Manana—William IV from Choate, Thatcher (“Tat”) from Gow, and Lucia, from her day classes at the Latin School of Chicago, where they were surrounded for a fortnight by their cousins and assorted friends.
But it wasn’t all party giving. On October 3, 1901, an article at the top of page one of the Chicago Tribune carried the headline, “Go from society to art,” with the subhead, “Three ladies to be less active in fashion’s world.”
The Lambert Tree Studios today.
The three ladies moving so notably from the social world to the artistic realm were post-deb Miss Hazel Martyn and two young matrons, Mrs. Dudley Winston, who had been Grace Farwell, one of Sen. Charles B. Farwell’s three beautiful and gifted daughters, and Louise Hamilton Waller.
The exquisite Hazel Martyn, the future Lady Lavery.
Miss Martyn, according to the Tribune “began her art studies abroad, and, in spite of being much sought after in the two years since she was introduced in society here, has continued to do some credible work with the pencil and brush.”
Grace Farwell Winston.
The article continued, “Mrs. Winston is also a black and white enthusiast, and Mrs. Waller has achieved probably as great success as either of companions.” The three had rented a studio in the Lambert Tree Studio building on North State Street and planned to devote themselves to working there in the sketching that was a specialty of all three. They also expected “to make their studio a rendezvous of those who seek this form of art.”
The Lambert Tree Studios, another recent view. Note a sign for Bloomingdale’s Medinah Home to the right rear.
A year and a half later, on May 31, 1903, a drawing by Louise Waller appeared in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune, again at the top of page; accompanying it was The Annunciation by the English poetess Adelaide Procter. It was a suitable pairing; Louise’s charming Pre-Raphaelite-style drawing surrounding the poem—depicting an angel above the stanzas and the Virgin Mary below—was a superb offset for Miss Proctor’s somewhat turgid Victorian verse.
While Louise Waller was sketching, William was playing golf, and just as successfully as his wife was at sketching. A member of Onwentsia Club and a frequent player at Charles Blair Macdonald’s Chicago Golf Club at Wheaton, William was one of turn-of-the century Chicago’s premier golfers; in October 1901, he had been recent Western Amateur champion when he also won the Chicago Cup at Wheaton.
William Waller often played with Charles Blair Macdonald, above, developer of the Chicago Golf Club.
The Wallers will continue in Classic Chicago next week with the The Charnley House Wallers.
Robert F. Carl