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Lake Forest Country Places: Bluff’s Edge

Lake Forest Country Places XIX:

Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Chatfield-Taylor's
"Bluff's Edge," 620 Lake Road

One of a series of articles by Arthur Miller, Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections at Lake Forest College, originally published in the Lake Forest Journal, 1994-1997; some have been replaced or updated.

The very handsome, red-brick Georgian-style mansion and garage at the foot of Lake Road is a familiar site to visitors to the south entrance to the Forest Park Beach, the boaters' entrance. On the west side of the road, the house faces north, presenting a classic facade to the community. As has been the norm in this series, this estate combines uncommon historical, cultural and architectural interest. Also, its classic design dating from 1925 and by Chicago architects Rebori, Wentworth, Dewey and McCormick has stood the test of time and recently has been restored. It epitomizes the current vogue for high-quality Georgian style highlighted in an article in the April 1996 issue of Town & Country. At its annual meeting on May 19 the Lake Forest Foundation for Historic Preservation recognized the current owners of the Chatfield-Taylors' "Bluff's Edge" for their outstanding efforts to preserve this remarkable property in a manner which is faithful to its style and to its original condition.

Wayne Chatfield-Taylor was the son of author Hobart Chatfield-Taylor and Rose Farwell Chatfield-Taylor, daughter of Senator Charles B. Farwell and Mary Eveline Smith Farwell. Wayne graduated from Yale in 1916 and married Adele Margaret Blow of Chicago in 1917. In a June 6, 1994 New Yorker profile by Francine Gray of Adele Chatfield-Taylor, who currently is president of the American Academy in Rome, this contemporary Adele recalls her paternal grandmother who built "Bluff's Edge:" "an amateur architect interested in ideas, dogs, and in style." Indeed, the modern-day, near-celebrity Adele recalls fondly from her childhood the aesthetic savvy of both her grandmothers for whom "'design was a sort of calling.'" (p. 51).

The "Bluff's Edge" property originally was part of the C. B. Farwell estate and previously housed a Victorian residence, home to two maiden Farwell sisters. On the south end of the estate at the ravine, the older house's carriage-way wall on the ravine's edge still remains -- an overlook pointing toward the lake. In the late 1880s, too, this was part of a trial or preliminary golf course designed for Senator Farwell and his son-in-law, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, by Scottish golf course architect C. B. MacDonald, to test interest in Chicago for a golf course. This experiment led to the building of the Chicago Golf Club and, eventually, to the founding of the Onwentsia Club. This handsome house and English landscape lawn, then, rests on an historic site of considerable interest.

This Colonial Revival or Federal Revival Georgian residence illustrates the point of an article, in the April 1996 issue of Town & Country, by Marc Wortman entitled "By Georgian!" Focussing on new houses around the country, the article discusses the "boom" among discriminating clients to hire a half-dozen architects to create new Georgian revival, or classical revival, houses. One of the six architects mentioned is Thomas Beebe, who currently is the architect for an addition and renovations to 930 East Rosemary Road, originally built by Benjamin Marshall. This handsome, timeless architecture separates out its owners from the pack. Wortman quotes New York architect Jaquelin Robertson on this point: "'The symbolic hard currency of architecture is classical,... It's gold in the bank. The other stuff is leveraged buy-outs and soybean futures.'" The article also lists classic east-coast and English examples of Georgian architecture and it includes an illustration of a handsome house by Colin Campbell from the second early 18th C. volume of his Vitruvius Britannicus. A copy of this book from the library of the famous family of Georgian architects, the Adams, is in the Lake Forest College library. Once in the library of a local estate, it was found in the 1980s by the late Edwin Asmann (Lake Forest, '27) and purchased on the Martin Rosenthal Memorial Library Fund.

The client of such a designer as the six mentioned by Wortman gains not only aesthetic pleasure on a daily basis and for a lifetime but often as well remarkable efficiency in the use of space. As Eleanor Roosevelt observed of the townhouse Charles Platt designed for the Roosevelts on East 65th Street in New York in 1907, "'an architect of great taste' had 'made the most of every inch of space....'" (see Deborah S. Gardner, "Platt in New York...." in Keith N. Morgan, Shaping an American Landscape: the Art and Architecture of Charles A. Platt, from the University Press of New England, 1995, p. 114).

Certainly Wayne Chatfield-Taylor was separated by a couple of generations from contact with the too-direct results of farming ("soybeans"), though he was an investment banker and later served in Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and Commerce Depts. His and his wife's 10,000 sq. ft. house reflects the added culture and vision for the future which comes to second- and, in this case, third-generation resources and leisure.

The couple's Chicago architect, Andrew Rebori, was the partner of two other such scions of early Chicago hustle, contemporaries of Charles B. and his brother John V. Farwell. As described by Joan Draper and Raymond T. Tatum in "The Buildings of Andrew Nicholas Rebori" (Chicago Architectural Journal, v. 4, 1984), John Wentworth was a grand-nephew of the New-England-born early Chicago mayor and booster "Long John" Wentworth and Leander McCormick, Jr. was a grand-nephew of farm implement innovator and early Chicagoan Cyrus Hall McCormick. Rebori himself had met at school a niece of Chicago Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick, a descendant of both McCormick and of Joseph Medill who built the Tribune. Rebori had attended M.I.T. in Boston and then studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1908-09) and at the American Academy in Rome (1910). He worked in the office of neo-classical architect Cass Gilbert (Woolworth Building, U. S. Supreme Court building in Washington) in New York between these trips (1909-1910). Rebori came to Chicago, perhaps in connection with his friendship with Robert R. McCormick's niece Nannie Prendergast, whom he married in 1913. Rebori, who lived until 1966, went on to have a very successful practice as a Society architect on Chicago's Gold Coast, working mostly on luxury apartment buildings and larger projects on upper Michigan Avenue, which he planned.

The Chatfield-Taylor place is prominently located near the lakefront of the original 1857 east Lake Forest mostly curvilinear street plan, itself essentially a Georgian feature. Lake Forest's National Register historic districts are architectural and landscape parks of the highest quality and, indeed, the original Almerin Hotchkiss plan of 1857 makes this section of east Lake Forest for its scale perhaps the most fully-realized, historically important, and aesthetically rewarding planned community west of Williamsburg. The 1857 plan's landscape style is indeed Georgian-period-originated (1714 to 1830, the time of the reigns of George I to George IV in England) -- the new English Landscape of William Kent, Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton translated into more democratic forms in the Nineteenth Century by Joseph Paxton and, on this side of the Atlantic, by Hotchkiss's creative generation of American landscape gardeners (also Downing, Davis, and Olmsted). Within the 1857 plat area is found an interplay of landscape elements which represent Eighteenth Century ideals of the picturesque (the rugged ravine at "Walden" and elemental lake views from Forest Park are examples: wild scenery) and the beautiful (spreading, closely-clipped lawns over undulating terrain as in Triangle Park and the lawn at Lake Forest College's "Glen Rowan" here are representative: nature domesticated).

In this setting relatively formal houses are set off in a manner characteristic of English country houses in their landscape parks. An example here in addition to the Chatfield-Taylor place is the symmetrical, Italianate "Homestead" of the DeVillo Holts (1860) at the northwest corner of College and Sheridan Roads, facing what was the "University Park" in the 1857 street plan. Later this 1857-platted district assumed its prevailing architectural character during the Country Place Era when Beaux-Arts formalism prevailed -- predominantly houses adhering to one of a group of European historical styles. Some of these houses blended architectural styles -- such as Shaw's Clayton Mark house (999 Lake Road). But this was done here with a refined sense of historical precedent not only for detail, but also for scale, balance, and proportion. Even I. W. Coburn's very modern-appearing houses on Lake Road pay careful homage to classical villa traditions, and are rigorous in their adherence to classical proportion and balance.

In the Country Place Era many Lake Forest estates were planned by nationally-known east-coast architects -- Charles Platt ("Villa Turicum" and 788 East Woodland Road; the Botanic Garden this summer will have an exhibit featuring Platt, from June 15 to Sept. 15, and it will offer an area tour of Platt and other exhibit-related garden designers' work on Sept. 11 in which I will participate: please call the Botanic Garden's education office for details), Delano & Aldrich (965 East Deerpath), Harrie T. Lindeberg (1460 North Lake Road, etc.), and Philip Lippincott Goodwin (111 West Westminster). Indeed, the Dittmers employed New Yorker David Easton, another of the names on the list of six in the April issue of Town & Country, in their 1980s refurbishment of David Adler's "Derwen Mawr" (West Deerpath, opposite Deerpath School). Also, the gardens at 788 East Woodland Road currently are being refurbished by English landscape gardener Rosemary Verey collaborating with an excellent North Shore firm. In the Country Place Era the high-profile, east-coast architects challenged the more local Beaux-Arts practitioners such as Frost & Granger, Shaw, Clark, Rebori, Adler, the Mahers, Anderson, Frazier, the Wolcotts and others to maintain their work at, to elevate their work to, or share in developing (as with Adler and Shaw, for example) this national level standard.

To conclude, a return to contemplation of the reserved neo-classical elegance of the Chatfield-Taylors' "Bluff's Edge," now painstakingly restored and maintained, provides a good gauge of appropriate community standards. This and other efforts to preserve and renew noble Georgian and other revival-style houses deserve community applause and support. The Chatfield-Taylor place is not hidden behind walls far from the road; rather it is on view on the edge of Forest Park and where all can see and enjoy the stately facade and the handsome garage set in their surrounding English landscape private park. It is crucial to the future of Lake Forest that sensitive spots like this one fall into the hands of responsible and knowledgeable stewards of the estate buildings and grounds, like the current owners of "Bluff's Edge" and their careful, respectful Chicago based restoration architects. The Preservation Foundation's recognition of these owners' adherence to national-level preservation standards in restoring their estate provides appropriate positive reinforcement to future would-be good stewards of local architectural treasures. Others who would like to follow the example of the owners of the Chatfield Taylor estate either in restoring a classic property like this one or in creating a new estate of distinction, even on a small scale, should contact the Preservation Foundation for the names of architects and of landscape architects of this calibre and level of commitment to traditional style.

Arthur Miller

June 12, 1996