Appeared in the Gazette, Spring 2019
By Laurie Peterson
Suburban life isn’t for everyone, and it apparently didn’t suit John L.
Shortall. Around 1905 he bought six acres of land bordering a ravine at 990
Sheridan Road and commissioned a large house from architect William Carbys Zimmerman. Despite the proximity to the Lakeside (now Hubbard Woods) train station, Shortall had no taste for commuting, so he and his family returned to the city in 1908.
Shortall had deep roots in Chicago. His father, John G. Shortall, was a
partner in one of three property title companies who had combined their
records after the Great Fire of 1871, thus helping to reconstruct the
incinerated government data. The father became a director of the Title
Guarantee and Trust Company of Chicago, but his real passion was prevention of cruelty to children and animals. One of the founders of the Illinois Humane Society, he was elected its first president and held the office for 29 years. Son John L. succeeded his father as president of the organization. He had already followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a director of the Title company that was the source of the family’s wealth.
Shortall sold the property in 1908 to John and Ellen Stuart, who were
much more appreciative of the suburban location. They developed it into a
true country estate, and lived there with their three children for almost half a century. They created a rose garden to the east of the house, a walled garden to the west, a fruit garden, a croquet lawn, and a tennis court, while preserving many of the majestic trees. Ellen Stuart was passionate about gardening, and they employed a live-in gardener to maintain the grounds.
The Stuarts’ improvements were not limited to the landscape. Around
1926 they hired architect Edwin Clark (designer of the Winnetka Village Hall, completed that year) to upgrade the house and design ancillary buildings. There are no records of how Clark remodeled the exterior of the house, but he probably gave a more formal Georgian appearance to what may have been a simpler stucco-clad design. We know of one significant interior change: the library walls were fitted with wood paneling taken from the London residence of the Earl of Warwick. (The letters W and G—for Warwick as well as the family name of Greville—appear on the glass door escutcheons.)
Clark designed two new buildings to the west of the main house: a three-bedroom “gardener’s cottage,” and a three-car garage with a five-room apartment above and an attached greenhouse. The house already had extensive servants’ quarters, so the Stuarts were certainly adding staff to their estate.
John Stuart had an extremely successful career as an executive at
Quaker Oats, which grew exponentially during his leadership. It was not,
however, the rags-to-riches story implied by the headline of his 1969 Chicago Tribune obituary, “Rose to Chairman from Floor Sweeper.” In the late nineteenth century, Stuart’s father and a partner had built up an empire of grain mills that was named the Quaker Oats Company in 1901.
John Stuart graduated from Princeton with a civil engineering degree in
1900. His first job was indeed as a 15-cents-an-hour floor sweeper at an
oatmeal mill, but he quickly rose to managerial positions and by 1907 was
named a director of Quaker Oats. He was named president and CEO in 1922;
twenty years later he became chairman of the board.
When the Stuarts sold the property and moved to Lake Forest in 1952,
the world had changed. Retinues of staff were a thing of the past, and estate
properties were being subdivided into more manageable lots with smaller
homes. The Stuart property was split into six parcels, with the family home
keeping the address of 990 Sheridan and over an acre of land.
Three of the five other properties had new houses constructed on them
in the mid-1950s. The house to the northeast, at 1000 Sheridan, was built
adjacent to the rose garden. The southeast property had a ranch house that
was replaced by a larger house in 2004. The lot immediately west had a small ranch house that was demolished fifteen years ago when the current owners acquired the property to enlarge their yard. At 935 Ravine Road, the former coach house/greenhouse was remodeled into a residence and has since had numerous improvements. The “gardener’s cottage” was moved from its location straddling two parcels to the lot at 945 Ravine Road, and has also been extensively remodeled.
990 Sheridan was purchased in 1952 by Gifford and Catherine Foley.
During their two decades of ownership, they did some minor remodeling and built a new garage, since the original one was now on a different piece of property. In the 1970s and ‘80s the house was owned by Thomas and Sue Pick. Their daughter Sally wrote an engaging history of the house for a school assignment in 1981; it is now in the files of the Winnetka Historical Society.
Current owners Bill and Carolyn Glastris bought 990 Sheridan 20 years
ago. They added a family room pavilion to the north and a garage with roof
deck to the south, both clad in stone to distinguish them from the main house. They put in a swimming pool and later acquired the lot to the west to expand their garden.
They are graciously opening their home for the Winnetka Historical Society’s Annual Gala on June 29, 2019.