Another doomed Prairie School house? | Bleader

Another doomed Prairie School house?

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Word has it that the former William Schwefer residence, a house in Hawthorn Woods designed in 1948 by lesser-known Prairie School architect John Van Bergen, is on the verge of being sold to a developer who will tear it down.

I learned of this in an e-mail forwarded by Reader contributor Heather Kenny from Marty Hackl, a River Forest resident who lives in a Van Bergen house and is an obsessive preservationist of Prairie School architecture. Kenny profiled Hackl for the Reader in 2005. He has a particular interest in Van Bergen, and his Web site includes a meticulous catalog of the architect's works.

Van Bergen grew up in Oak Park, and his architectural career was inspired by the construction of two Frank Lloyd Wright houses near to his boyhood home. After an apprenticeship with a couple architects and a period at Chicago Technical College, he worked under his idol for a year.

His early designs are heavily derivative of Wright; if you spend much time in Oak Park, you'll probably notice some houses that look kind of like Wright designs, but not quite. You're probably looking at a Van Bergen. This period did produce some masterpieces, however, such as the beautiful Salem E. Munyer apartment complex in Oak Park, the Louis Netzel Residence in LaGrange, and the Braeside School in Highland Park.

By the 1940s, Van Bergen's style had become low-slung and very subtle, which may account for his undeserved obscurity, though he did produce some striking buildings, such as the Lucille Hansen Residence and Studio and the Howard R. Terpning Residence.

The Schwefer house dates to this period, and it takes a while to appreciate it from the pictures. It looks deceptively modest in this shot, but look for the details--the curved porch, the extended window frame, the clever mini-shelves, the corner fireplace.

According to Hackl, the developer "offered $575K, and neither side are budging. I think an offer of between $660K and $625K right now might be accepted." In other words, right at or just under the median price for Hawthorn Woods.

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