Often the pasts of handsome old houses along the North Shore are shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. But thanks to 1980s crusading by Lake Forest resident, the late Susan Dart, to document and preserve the work of Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869–1926) and also to Josie Spitz (Mrs. Kenneth) Nebenzahl of Glencoe, we know a great deal about that architect’s last residential project, “Trail Tree,” the 1926 house built for Mr. and Mrs. Joel Spitz at the south end of Longwood Avenue in Glencoe, between Sheridan Road and the lake.
In the early 1980s Mrs. Nebenzahl donated the plans for her parents’ house, “Trail Tree,” to the Lake Forest College Library, along with a treasure trove of related documentation. Two of the boxes included photos of the striking brick and half-timbered Tudor house, photos of the family, drawings, a wallpaper sample pinned to a letter, lists of furnishings and garden plants, and signed correspondence not only with Shaw and his firm, but also with the Spitz family’s landscape designer, the iconic North shore master of native plantings and natural regional style, Jens Jensen (1860–1951).
“Trail Tree” homeowners Mr. and Mrs. Joel (Maxine Hart) Spitz, like many North Shore families in high-styled residences then, were second-generation Chicagoans, children of post-Civil-War successful merchants and manufacturers. While not descended from the earliest settlers, they were well established by the 1920s. Both families had founded clothing concerns in 1870s Chicago, with his family’s firm being absorbed into a Cleveland firm in 1957, and hers, Hartmarx, surviving as a leading brand of men’s suits (Hart Schaffner & Marx) in the 1920s, then known as the “largest men’s clothing concern in the world” (Chicago Tribune, Feb. 23, 1928, 1). Joel Spitz, in addition to being steward to family resources, was a book-collecting member of Chicago’s Caxton Club, and his daughter, Mrs. Nebenzahl, grew up to marry a noted rare-book and map author and dealer. The couple continues to live in Glencoe; they are well-known and respected in Caxton Club and Newberry Library circles.
Shaw, who died at 56 in the spring of 1926 just as he received one of the earliest Gold Medals of the American Institute of Architects, was also a second-generation Chicago merchant’s son; his father being Theodore Shaw, a dry-goods wholesaler. Shaw attended Harvard (1890) and MIT’s architecture program (1891), then worked for architect WLB Jenney in Chicago preparing for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, traveling in Europe before marrying his childhood sweetheart (Frances Wells Shaw) and launching his own firm. His projects included houses for Chicago’s industrial and cultural leaders in Hyde Park, on the North Side, and on the North Shore from Evanston to Lake Forest. In addition, he designed the 1920s parish house for the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Lake Forest’s Market Square, Glencoe’s Lake Shore Country Club, and office buildings in Chicago and New York. Jensen, who outlived Shaw by a quarter century, retired in 1935 to found his folk school, The Clearing, at Bailey’s Harbor, WI, and to write his inspirational Siftings (1939).Most of his work is known from the plans now at the Bentley Historical Library, U. of Michigan. But this remarkable archive testifies to a North Shore project of his otherwise not documented.
images courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Lake Forest College