731 Prospect Avenue

Gazette Article by: Nan Greenough
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2000

Commanding the bluff that overlooks Sheridan Road and the lake, the James L. Houghteling house at 731 Prospect Avenue is an impeccable example of a Shingle Style house, so popular at the turn of the century. Shingle Style is drawn from the Queen Anne Style, itself introduced to the American public by the British at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Queen Anne Style was warmly received and quickly assimilated into the mainstream of domestic architecture. Within several years, a variation using shingles to cover the walls as well as the roof, gave rise to the Shingle Style. The simplified exterior was accompanied by interior innovation; an openness of floor plan that foreshadowed the work of Frank Lloyd Wright among others.

Shingle Style houses gained their greatest popularity along the East Coast. Houses by H. H. Richardson and McKim, Meade and White in Newport, Rhode Island, are classic examples. Terraces and covered porches encircle the house, French doors open onto outdoor spaces, continuing the flow of interior space into the garden. The asymmetrical massing of Shingle Style houses, along with irregular, steeply pitched roof lines, a variety of window shapes, bays, turrets, dormers and eyebrow windows provided the architect with numerous design options, resulting in houses that are often delightfully eccentric and uniquely American.

The house at 731 Prospect displays a designer’s deft hand in combining classic Shingle Style elements to create a warm, welcoming facade dominated by the polygonal turret to the left of a massive covered entry porch. Oddly enough, we don’t know who the architect was, but we hope to inspire some detective work in the future.

We do know that the house was one of four built by families working in concert. In 1887, Francis B. Peabody, his son-in-law James Houghteling, Frederick Greeley and Edward R. Ryerson bought the sixteen-acre block bounded by Prospect and Sheridan, Humboldt and Park. While the four houses they built remain today, two are substantially altered and two, 731 Prospect and the house at the corner of Humboldt and Sheridan, retain their original look. One remarkable feature of the four houses is that a unifying landscape for all the properties was designed by the celebrated O. C. Simonds and was featured in a 1912 issue of Country Life in America magazine. The result was three tennis courts below the bluff on Sheridan Road, interconnected flower gardens and shared vistas that, in effect, multiplied the views available to any one of the houses.

No house has ever been luckier in its selection of new owners. Alice Rapoport and Michael Sachs, who bought the house in 1995, were willing and able to take on the intimidating task of total restoration. With the capable help of Dan Wheeler of Wheeler, Kearns Architects, the house celebrated its 100th birthday with new roofs, exterior wall shingling, electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation, plaster walls and ceilings, plus painstakingly restored hardwood floors, windows, bathrooms, fixtures and hardware. And, sure to delight Historical Society members one hundred years from now, the wind vane at the top of the turret combines the initials of the owners: A.R. and M.S.

For its sensitivity and outstanding attention to detail, the restoration won a Winnetka Preservation Award this spring from the Winnetka Landmark Commission.

In September, the house accommodated the Winnetka Historical Society’s flawless fundraiser, where the house’s superb floor plan was put to the test as over 200 guests mingled effortlessly. They couldn’t have done it any better in Newport.

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