Gazette Article by: Cindy Fuller
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 1999
Winnetka’s Italian Villas
In 1926 building permits were issued to Leah White for five houses to be constructed in the “Winnetka Villas” subdivision on Sheridan Road. It is a fitting name for these unique Italian-styled buildings. Located along the North Shore’s most scenic thoroughfare, they encircle a secluded courtyard, providing a quiet not usually afforded such close-knit neighbors.
This unique group is reminiscent of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. The Italianate Style, prolific in America during the mid to late nineteenth century, was popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing’s widely publicized pattern books featuring romanticized versions of Italian farmhouses. After the turn of the century, a growing number of architects studied abroad and adapted designs from original Italian renaissance villas, creating more authentic copies.
Characteristics of Italian Renaissance Revival buildings include red clay tile roofs, decorative window grilles, and elaborate, ornamental entryways. Walls are always masonry or stucco. Less ornate versions of the style feature heavy, wood-paneled doors with decorative surrounds. Garden courtyards are also common. Roofs are often flat with parapet walls extending above.
The Leah White houses are austere versions of the style with some unique features. Perhaps most interesting is the use of sandstone with crushed marble block on the exterior of the three houses most visible from the road. Their partners at the rear of the compound are faced in less expensive yellow brick. All five houses contain French doors, some arches above, urns atop the corners of the roofs, and decorative limestone banding marking the line of the flat roofs below the parapet walls. All the entry doors are simply adorned.
The designers of the White houses, Jerrold Loebl and Norman Joseph Schlossman, were raised in Chicago and studied architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology). After graduating they formed a partnership in 1925. The White houses were an early commission for the pair, who remained partners until their retirement. Schlossman lived in Winnetka as an adult. The firm still exists today as Loebl, Schlossman & Hackl/Hague Richards. It has been best known for its commercial designs including Old Orchard and Oak Brook shopping centers, Water Tower Place, and Michael Reese Hospital.
It is believed Leah White built the houses for herself and several family members, but one was purchased by the Burns family, who occupied the home until 1987.
Such loyalty and pride of ownership seem to have extended to current owners as well. They continue to value and preserve many of the houses’ details, including the original architectural plans. These “Winnetka Villas” have been a well-kept secret with a colorful past.