By Laurie Petersen
The theme of this year’s Winnetka Historical Society’s gala is “Big Noise from Winnetka,” inspired by the Big Band tune of that name. Music and merriment will fill the air at the beautiful home and garden of hosts Becky and Chris Hurley. Their remodeled house at 644 Walden Road, designed by Paul Konstant, is the most recent development on this interesting street.
Walden Road was actually one of the last streets to be created in the heart of the Village. An 1890 map of the town shows Vine Street curving south and dead-ending just below what is now the intersection of Westmoor and Walden (neither of those roads existed then.) Provident Avenue had been fully subdivided into 50-foot lots but it stopped at Pine Street.
By 1896, Westmoor Street (then called Fig Street) had been created, but the area between it and Pine, from Green Bay Road to Locust, was the largest unsubdivided area in Winnetka.
It was not until 1909 that Murray Nelson, Jr. bought the 25.6-acre tract of land north of Pine Street and platted three blocks. Three years later Nelson sold the middle block to Edward Burling, and the private road now known as Black- thorn was cut through from Pine to the newly created Walden Road.
The 1912 subdivision map shows generously sized lots with 160-200 foot frontages on both sides of Blackthorn and the west side of Walden, with smaller but still substantial lots of 100 feet wide on the east side of the street. Those eastern lots backed up to properties along Green Bay Road (then called Railroad Avenue), which were a mixture of small residences and commercial enterprises, including the large greenhouses of Henry Ilg Florist at the northwest corner of Green Bay and Pine.
One of the oldest houses in the Village is at 788 Walden, on the block that was originally the northsouth extension of Vine Street. Recently remodeled, it is the lone survivor of Winnetka’s first small building boom.
Shortly after the 1871 Chicago Fire, Chicago developers Simeon and E. Ashley Mears bought large tracts of land in Hubbard Woods (then called Lakeside) and built 14 houses. Tall and impressive-looking with their Second Empire-style mansard roofs, most of the houses were poorly built, heavily mortgaged, and had unfinished interiors.
Some of them remained unsold, and others were abandoned by their owners due to the high expenses, but in 1881 Lucy Furness bought the house on Vine Street and sold it four years later to Julius Heinig, whose family lived there for almost 70 years.
For the next three decades the area remained undeveloped, and houses appeared only gradually after the 1912 subdivision of the land.
By 1914 there were 11 houses on Walden Road, including an intriguing cluster on the southeast corner of Westmoor Road. Designed in a Prairie-influenced Arts & Crafts style, the stucco houses have unusual rooflines and stained glass window transoms. The houses at 944 Westmoor and 747 Walden are the best preserved and make an interesting contrast with the Colonial-style remodeling of 739 Walden.
The boom years for this street, as for most others in Winnetka, were the 1920s into the mid-1930s. A 1938 map shows that all but two lots had been developed. Most of the designs were in the popular Colonial or Tudor Revival styles. Two neighboring houses are notable for different reasons: one was the home of an important figure in children’s literature, and one was a key location in a well-known film.
670 Walden was built by Olive Beaupré Miller and her husband when they moved to Winnetka in 1917. That was the year she became a published author with the appearance of her “Sunny Rhymes for Happy Children.”
Two years later she and her husband founded The Book House for Children publishing company, with Olive as editor and Harry handling the business side. The innovation of the Book House series, which eventually grew to 12 volumes, was its developmental approach to children’s literature.
Beaupré Miller wrote original stories and also gathered tales from her extensive travels around the world. The company had a predominantly female sales force, and generations of young readers became “Book House Babies.” The Winnetka Historical Society is fortunate to own a set of books, complete with an original storage case in the shape of a wooden house.
The house at 680 Walden will look familiar to fans of the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. Director Steven Soderbergh chose this as the residence of Danny and Tess Ocean, played by George Clooney and Julia Roberts. He shot both interior and exterior scenes here, and used it briefly in the Oceans Twelve sequel.
The Hurley home at 644 Walden is an extensive remodeling of a 1920s center-entry Colonial. A 1950s addition was removed and an attached garage added, along with a welcoming front porch. The project was completed last year, and guests at the Winnetka Historical Society gala enjoyed the house and gardens on June 10, 2017.