Born in 1869 in Chicago, Howard Van Doren Shaw was one of the best-known country house architects of the early 20th century. A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Shaw explored many of the same ideas as the Prairie School architects within the forms of traditional architecture— but his work was also influenced by time spent traveling around England, France, Italy, and Spain. Working in and around the North Shore of Chicago, Shaw designed gracious estates for the leading industrialists of the day—from Reuben H. Donnelley and Joseph Medill Patterson to Edward Forster Swift and Edward L. Ryerson.
Shaw’s impact on Lake Forest began in 1897-98 with construction of his family’s own Ragdale summer estate (which Lake Foresters know today as the site of a revered artist-in-residence program).
According for Arthur Miller, the pre-eminent local architect, Henry Ives Cobb (1859-1931), moved east after selling his Green Bay Road farm and home to the founders of the Onwentsia Club. Shaw—a decade younger—began to fill the local architectural design void left by Cobb, most notably with new country places clustered north along Green Bay Road beyond Westminster on two former Cole-Swanton-Atteridge family farms.
One of the houses on the September 30 Lake Forest Preservation Foundation tour, renovated in the 1920s by former Shaw associate Stanley D. Anderson’s firm, recalls the style and massing of Cobb’s own farmhouse, by then Onwentsia’s clubhouse.
His Market Square in Lake Forest was lauded as both a unique town green and the first American shopping center designed to accommodate automobiles. It was yet another example of Shaw’s skill at adapting historic precedents to contemporary life. His impact continues to be felt in the architectural community and around the country.