LAKE FOREST — When Stephen Salny was a student at Lake Forest College 40 years ago, he liked to walk or drive around town looking at some of the distinctive homes in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and elsewhere on the North Shore.
“I fell in love with a dozen homes. I didn’t know who designed them. They all had a different style,” he said.
But they did have one thing in common — and during his senior year, Salney, a 1977 graduate, discovered what it was when he came across a book about the architecture of David Adler in the college’s library.
All of the homes he admired most were designed by Adler. “Oh my gosh, it was like looking at children you didn’t know you had,” he said. His life was never the same.
Since then Salny, who operates a family real estate management business in Baltimore, has studied and written about Adler and the architect’s sister, interior designer Frances Elkins.
Salny will give a lecture sharing his love of Adler’s architecture as part of Lake Forest College’s homecoming festivities at 3 p.m. October 6 on the campus’s Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel.
The lecture will provide facts about Adler’s architecture and will also talk about the era between 1911 and 1949 when the homes were built. Salny said it is impossible to escape the lifestyle of the people who lived in the houses. Their last names were Armour, Blair, Lasker and Dick.
“You can’t do this without talking about the social history of the era,” said Salny. “They are intertwined. It was the era of the grand house. People don’t live that way anymore. What he designed was a place where you could read a book in your library on Sunday and have 700 people for dinner the next day, but it was still home.”
One of the homes Salny will discuss was built in 1932 for Edison Dick on Woodland Road. Dick was the son of Albert B. Dick, who founded A.B. Dick Co. Many Dick family members remain in Lake Forest today.
He also will discuss homes once owned by William McCormick Blair, Aleka Armour, and Albert Lasker. Lasker’s 500-acre estate in west Lake Forest had its own regulation golf course as well as an assortment of other buildings. Salny said Lasker had a staff of 50 to maintain the 35,000-square-foot home and grounds.
Lasker “used to bus them in from Highwood on his private bus,” said Salny. “There was one man who used a bamboo rod to clean the dew off the grass.”
Getting Adler to design your house was not a given; Salney said Alder was so prominent that he got to pick and choose. It did not matter if you were part of one of the wealthiest families in Chicagoland.
“He was the ‘it architect,’ ” said Salny. “You couldn’t just hire him. He would turn the tables and interview you. It took great wealth to build those houses. When he was done he would tell you whether he would build the house.”
There may have been no lecture or books at all if a trustee had not willed the college his home and rare book collection. Salny authenticated many of the books, and the house is now the president’s home.
After learning Adler was the architect of the homes Salny adored, he went to Franz Schulze. Schulze was an art and architecture professor at the time. Salny asked Schulze if the professor would oversee an independent study project about Adler’s work. Schulz agreed, and Salny got to know people like Blair and Armour, who opened their homes to him. When the paper was done, the professor “said ‘this is a doctoral dissertation,’” Salny said. “‘You will have to publish it in a book.’ I said no.”
Fast forward to 1998. The college got the donation and of the building and the books. Salny said Schulze said the only person who could authenticate the books and decorations in the home was Salny. Once he did that, he decided it was time to start writing books.
“It was an epiphany,” said Salny. “I went to Lake Forest to do it.”