Monday, June 6, 2011

1400 North Astor Street


The Perry H. Smith Residence at 1400 North Astor (JWB, 2011)

Stop at the corner of Huron and Michigan Avenue today, and you’ll see the Allerton Hotel on one corner and the Chicago Place mall on the other.  Back in the 1880’s, though, Michigan Avenue was called Pine Street, and the intersection of Pine and Huron is where Perry H. Smith made his home.  It was in that home that Mr. Smith went to his eternal reward on March 29, 1895.

Perry Smith was born in Watertown, New York in 1828, attended Hamilton University where he finished second in his class and was practicing law by the time he was 21-years-old.  He didn’t wait long to head west . . . by the time he was 22, he was in Wisconsin, first in Kenosha and then in Appleton.

Porch Detail at 1400 N. Astor (JWB, 2011)
It was in Appleton, a newly established town, that he became the town’s first judge at the age of 23.  He was subsequently elected to the Wisconsin House of Representatives and then to the Senate.  Before he was 30-years-old, he was the Vice-President of the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad.  When that line merged with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, he served in the same position with the company that William Ogden headed.

After a dozen years Mr. Smith retired from the railroad and assumed the role of a private citizen – a wealthy private citizen.  He had invested wisely, and at his death his estate approximated a million dollars.  Only once did he step out of retirement and that was to run for Mayor of Chicago against Monroe Heath in 1876, an election which Heath, the Republican, won by a wide majority.

Upon Smith’s death, his estate was divided between his wife and children, and the youngest son, Perry H., Jr., built a new home at 1400 North Astor Street, a red brick beauty designed by the firm of Henry Ives Cobb and Charles Summers Frost. 

Both architects left their marks on Chicago, together and independently.  Two years before the Smith home was finished on Astor, the architects’ plan for Potter Palmer’s opulent mansion had been completed on Lake Shore Drive.  Henry Ives Cobb designed the Newberry Library and the master plan for the University of Chicago.  Frost’s most well known work consists of the head house and auditorium at Navy Pier.

Brick work on center windows-1400 N. Astor (JWB, 2011)
The partnership dissolved in 1888 at which point Charles Frost went to work as the chief architect for a railroad.  Guess which one?  Right.  The Chicago and Northwestern.  Ah, connections . . . they’re so important.

The Astor Street residence sits on a long, narrow lot with it entrance facing south on Schiller.  Two bays, one on the east side of the entrance and one on the west, sit on either side of the arched entryway.  Ornamentation is modest, limited to the porch, the eastern bay and with brick ornament at the top of the gables. 

Hammond, Beeby, Rupert and Ainge designed a 3,000 square foot addition at the west of the property, completed in 1991, which houses a master bedroom suite and large kitchen. The addition is so skillfully interwoven with the original structure that you would have to look hard to see where one left off and the other began.  Of course, historicism was familiar to the firm as a variation of the partnership designed the Harold Washington Library, also completed in 1991.

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