by Helen Weaver
When Miss Annie Randolph Tate married Mr. John Van Alstyne Weaver in 1892, newspaper accounts described her as “a well known Southern belle, the daughter of the late Thomas Tate, an extensive planter and cotton mill owner.” One writer claimed Miss Annie was “one of the most popular as well as one of the most beautiful of Southern ladies.”
A 30 member wedding party and over 200 other guests attended their Charlotte, North Carolina ceremony. John and Annie met and fell in “love at first sight” only one year earlier in 1892 at the wedding of Althea Bedle, daughter of Joseph R. Bedle, the former Governor of New Jersey. John, a Yale and Columbia University educated attorney, and Annie soon moved to John’s hometown of Chicago. It is no surprise that when they decided to build a house in Winnetka, they chose an imposing Classical Revival/Southern Colonial design. 1039 Fisher Lane, the WHS’s “House of the Season,” with its classic temple-like white columned porch, was designed and constructed for the Weavers by Swedish architect Lars (Lawrence) Gustav Hallberg, Sr. in 1905.
Trained in Europe, L.G. Hallberg came to the United States in 1871 as soon as he heard about the great Chicago Fire. Only 25 years old, Gustav knew no one in the city, but with a good grasp of English, a solid background in architecture and the pluck and determination of a new immigrant, he built an extremely successful career. Perhaps more importantly, he became known as a man of solid character.
A 1904 article in a Swedish newspaper claimed: “Everybody who comes in contact with Mr. Hallberg socially or in business admires his pleasant and friendly manner; he is the personification of kindliness.” Hallberg, known for his design of a number of stately private homes in the Gold Coast including the landmarked homes at 1254 N. Lake Shore Drive and 1337 N. Dearborn Street, also designed churches, hospitals, schools and other buildings for the Swedish immigrant community as well as a number of significant Chicago commercial buildings.
He filed many patents for building materials and became known as the “father of reinforced concrete.” Hundreds of friends and clients mourned the end of his life and career at his sudden death in 1915.
Though the Weavers owned the house until May 1919, when Frederick D. Montgomery, a printer, bought it and moved in with his young second wife and baby daughter, they were not often “in residence.” Society pages of the time describe the Weavers’ many travels to North Carolina and other locations on the east coast.
Their two sons, John V.A., Jr. and Randolph both went off to study at Hamilton College in upstate New York and John Sr. and Annie ended up renting out their house to another family in transition, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Boak.
When the Weavers returned to Winnetka during the summer months, they first rented other vacant homes in their Hubbard Woods neighborhood, and eventually re-located to an apartment in Chicago. Tragically, John Sr. suffered an emotional breakdown and committed suicide in August 1918. John Jr. (Johnny) obtained a certain amount of notoriety in his adult years, becoming a well-known poet, playwright and early Hollywood screenwriter, friend of Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neil and husband of actress Peggy Wood. (About 25 years after Johnny died in 1938, Peggy starred as the Reverend Mother in the film version of The Sound of Music.)
Frederick and Grace Montgomery only stayed at 1039 Fisher Lane (known then as 1039 Private Road) for about three years, selling the house to Francis H. and Helen (Hancock) Hardy for the relatively high price of $60,000 in 1922.
The Hardys moved in with their new baby daughter Jane, had a second daughter Anne, and lived there for half a century until their deaths in 1960 (Francis) and 1970 (Helen). Jane and Anne both graduated from North Shore Country Day School, went to women’s colleges in the South, and married men from Richmond, Virginia. The reception for Jane’s marriage to W. Gibson Harris was held at the Hardy home on a beautiful Saturday in September 1942.
For many years Francis Hardy was the president of Miami Metals Company, a manganese factory, and later he became involved in commercial real estate. The family summered in Ephraim, Wisconsin where Francis took up painting and became an ardent supporter of the arts.
They were devoted members of Christ Church, Winnetka and donated their house at 1039 Fisher Lane to the Church in 1956 with the hope that it could be used after their deaths for a church rectory. Neither the Hardys nor the church expected Mrs. Hardy to live so long, so by the time she died, a rectory was no longer needed. The church sold the house in 1970 to Jerry Lloyd Johnson and his wife Arlene for twice what the Hardys had paid nearly fifty years earlier: $120,000.
The Hardys and Johnsons both made some additions and modifications to 1039 Fisher Lane, with the Hardys adding sleeping porches in the 1920s and the Johnsons renovating the kitchen and adding a deck in the mid 1980s. Like the Hardys, the Johnsons raised two daughters in the house, Pamela and Adrienne. After Lloyd Johnson died in 1987, Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Sinclair bought the house, made their own updates and then sold it to the current owners Marilyn and Ramon Garcia in 1990.
Following the pattern of the other homeowners, the Garcias have also raised two children at 1039 Fisher Lane, a daughter and a son. They have maintained the historic integrity of the home, while updating the kitchen and master bedroom for a more modern lifestyle. One of their favorite features of the house is the “prohibition room” they discovered under a trapdoor in the west sunroom. Down a staircase into a secluded dark cellar room the Garcias uncovered old liquor bottles and evidence of clandestine socializing. While they renovated the space in the early 2000s and the “secret” room no longer exists, they saved the trap door as a reminder of that chapter of the house’s history.
On Saturday, June 6, 2015 WHS celebrates the 110th “birthday” of this classic Southern belle of a house at our Annual Gala. ■