[Stewart Apartments - 1200 N. Lake Shore Drive (1913) Marshall & Fox, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
On June 22, 1913 architect and real estate developer Benjamin Marshall authored a column in the Chicago Tribune titled, “Apartment More Like Residence.” He was letting Tribune readers know that a “new scheme” for apartment living was on the horizon for the monied class, apartments that would fulfill all the requirements of a large single family home but in a more contemporary and economical venue. It was time to shed Granny’s bulky, old, 15,000-sqaure-foot, multi-storied dwelling for a 5- or even 10,0000-square-foot apartment, wrapped in an elegant exterior facade with luxurious and sophisticated multi-roomed interiors. And plenty of room for servants.
[Stewart Apartments - 1200 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Chicago businessman John K. Stewart apparently felt that Marshall knew what he was talking about. In October of 1912 Stewart purchased one of those big old houses which had been standing on the northwest corner of Lake Shore Drive and Division Street since 1883. Emily and Samuel Gross had purchased the Burnham & Root designed house from James Charnley who eventually built a house on nearby Astor Street, and when Stewart bought the house from Emily in 1912, instead of moving in, he decided to tear it down.
[Stewart Apartments - 1200 N. Lake Shore Drive, Near North Side, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Stewart hired Marshall, who was busy designing and developing “new scheme” housing for the upper class along Lake Shore Drive and the city’s near north side Gold Coast community, to design a building for Stewart that would attract the exact type of clientle that the architect was talking about. Marshall came up with a 12-story tower that would fill the entire corner lot and contain 10 floor through apartments each with a Grand Salon, Salle A Manger, L’ Orangerie, Bibliotheque, a Chambre for Madame, one for Monsieur, three Chambre A’ Coucher, five Chambre for the Domestique, and six Salon de Basin. Plus the requisite kitchen, butler’s pantry, reception halls, and storage. If you required more rooms for staff the top floor and the bottom two floors of the building were also set aside for servants quarters should you need them, and a playroom on the top floor was created for the tenant’s children and grandchildren, when they came for a visit.
[Stewart Apartments - 1200 Lake Shore Drive, Gold Coast, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Stewart didn’t move in, but he did find tenants who were ready to shed the trappings of old world living for something new and modern. The building attracted interest among residents of the now fading but formerly glorious Prairie Avenue. Once home to a majority of Chicago’s wealthiest and most formidable citizenry, the south side residential district surrounding “the street where the elite meet” had been undergoing a transformation ever since Potter Palmer and people like the James Charnleys had decided to move north. There were still hold outs in the first decade of the 1900s, but everyone could see the handwriting on the walls of their once glamorous residences. The John Mitchells, the Chauncey Keeps and the James Thornes, left the dusty, smoky, and industrializing shores of their south side community for a fresh, new way of life at 1200 Lake Shore Drive. Two years after the first tenants moved into the Stewart Apartments, A. Watson Armour of the meat packing family decided to join his former Prairie Avenue neighbors leaving his mother behind, content to still live in her massive, old-fashioned, single-family Prairie Avenue home.
[Stewart Apartments - 1200 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Even with rents in the $5,000 to $6,000 per month range it was still cheaper and much easier to maintain a 10,000-square-foot apartment rather than a similarly-sized single family home. Only living “in town” for a few months out of every year, it was much easier to lock the door and leave behind your doorman-maned apartment building for the four months of winter in Florida or California and the four months of summer in Lake Forest, Lake Geneva, or Bar Harbor, than it was to lock-up the old house for eight months. Eventually however the luxe life that the Stewart Apartments offered at 1200 Lake Shore Drive came to an end. The Thornes and Armours would join the Fields and Wrigleys at what would become one of the city’s most exclusive high-rise addresss at 1500 Lake Shore Drive when the building was completed in 1929. The Stewart was divided into smaller and smaller sized dwelling units, and Marshall’s ten 10,000- square-foot apartments were eventually divvied-up into 40+ units. In 2009 the building underwent a $6 million exterior renovation which revealed the very non-glamorous steel structure that supported all of Marshall’s non-structural Adams-style inspired decor. Some of the apartments have grown back to their near original size, but instead of renting, you now have to buy since 1200 Lake Shore Drive is a condominium.
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