Gazette Article by: Laurie Petersen
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2009
House of the Season: The Felix Lowy House
Designed by Mayo and Mayo in 1925, the Felix Lowy House at 140 Sheridan Road is one of Winnetka’s most formal examples of the popular Tudor Revival style. The design takes its inspiration from grand Elizabethan manor houses and is symmetrical and imposing rather than rambling and picturesque. The property originally extended 300 feet along Sheridan Road, all the way to Winnetka Avenue. The architects described the unity of house and landscape as follows: “The whole plan of this home is virtually axial, that is to say the center of the main staircase as it comes down into the great hall is in a direct line thru the Stone Arch and down two steps into the Living room, down another step and into the Sun Porch, and out through the …’Picture’Window…to the formal garden, Pool, Fountain and Tea House at the far [south] end of the property.” Greenhouses and a bird sanctuary were hidden to the west.
Mayo and Mayo were among the foremost residential architects on the North Shore, equally proficient in a variety of French and English revival styles. While Winnetka has a handful of other houses by the father-son team, including the Chateauesque Windsor house at 419 Sheridan Road, their home town of Evanston has over 35 examples of their work.
Born in Birmingham, England in 1864, Ernest Mayo immigrated to Chicago in 1891 and established the firm of Mayo and Curry. They designed factories, hotels, and office buildings, and Mayo worked on administrative buildings for the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition. But he split with Curry, and when his son Peter was born in 1895 he was working on his own. Peter joined the firm in 1919 and was made a name partner the following year.
Whereas his father received his architectural training through apprenticeship in England, Peter received his degree from Yale University and furthered his design education with night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He served as a lieutenant in the army during World War I (his draft records note, “tall, slender, blue eyes, auburn hair”), and he graduated from the Ecole d’Artillerie in Fontainebleau, France. Thus it is not surprising that the firm of Ernest Mayo and Mayo (the father’s first name was later dropped) switched so easily from English to French styles.
Felix Lowy was an advertising executive who commissioned the house and lived in it for just a decade. One of the highlights of his career with the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company was helping preside over the 1930 completion of the steel support for the Lindbergh beacon atop the newly constructed Palmolive Building on North Michigan Avenue. But he moved to Milwaukee after taking a job with that city’s Holeproof Hosiery Company and sold the house on Sheridan Road to bank president John Breen in 1935.
The firm of Mayo and Mayo continued through the Depression and after Ernest’s death in 1946. Peter Mayo designed more modest family homes, including his own in Northfield, and small commercial buildings that include the bank building at the northeast corner of Green Bay Road and Elm Street (now Chase Bank). In 1964 the bank was completed and Peter Mayo retired; he died in California 12 years later.
Thank you to Ray Kearney of the Winnetka Public Library for giving the Winnetka Historical Society his research document on Mayo and Mayo.