When longtime North Shore resident Stuart Cohen finally visited Lake Forest, the short suburban trip served as an introduction to the work of Howard Van Doren Shaw.
It was an eye-opener.
“When I finally saw Market Square, it was a revelation, a small jewel that epitomized for me what urban design should be,” writes Cohen in “Inventing the New American House: Howard Van Doren Shaw, Architect,” a new coffee-table book published by The Monacelli Press.
The work itself will be a revelation to those with little knowledge of Shaw, whose death at 57 was national news. I had no idea, until I turned the pages, that I grew up across from one of Shaw’s brilliant creations, Havenwood II, built for Edward Larned Ryerson Sr. In my day, it was a monastery, home for the Franciscan Fathers in Lake Forest. I toured the mansion once for a school report and at other times remember strolling the beautiful grass paths (uninvited), admiring the pavilions that adorned the property and even searching for empty beer cans for my incipient collection until the wrecking ball knocked most of the estate down in favor of single-family homes.
Among other titans, Shaw built homes for printer Reuben H. Donnelley, newspaper publisher Joseph Medill Patterson and Gustavas Franklin Swift Jr. of the meatpacking dynasty. He may be best known for the home where he lived, now the artists’ retreat Ragdale in Lake Forest, whose picture graces Cohen’s cover.
Why write a book now about the architect, who passed away nearly 90 years ago?
“Shaw was one of the most original and inventive architects of his day,” says Cohen, himself an architect of renown in the area who once worked in New York for Richard Meier and for the late Philip Johnson. “His work was comfortable and livable while considered modern by his contemporaries. I wanted a larger audience of architects and historians to appreciate his work.”
Cohen notes the biggest challenge in creating the 248-page book was the lack of Shaw’s office records or a complete list of his commissions. Still, he compiles an impressive display of Shaw’s houses with compelling color and black-and-white photography, much of it previously unpublished.
Asked to name his favorite work of the architect’s, Cohen points to the McBirney house, known as the “House of the Four Winds” and built in 1908 in Lake Forest on Laurel Avenue.
“I love the interior layout, which connects all the main rooms along the length of the house to the garden which was designed by Shaw as a series of outdoor rooms extending the interior space of the house to the outside,” he says.
In an event sponsored by the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, Cohen will sign books and talk about Shaw at the Gorton Community Center on Saturday, June 13 at 2 p.m. For those captivated by architecture, history or a fascinating life, it will no doubt be worth attending.
Enjoy the weekend.
Editor in Chief