Gazette Article by: Cindy Fuller
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1997
House of the Season: An American Gothic in Winnetka
A picturesque Victorian Gothic at 270 Scott Avenue is a reminder of life in Winnetka in the late 1800s before the village became a commuter suburb. A pastoral, rural atmosphere prevailed—a wonderful setting for an artist’s studio with a view to the treetops and sky all around.
The story of 270 Scott begins with Jared Gage. In 1857 Gage arrived in Winnetka where he built an imposing Italianate house at 1175 Whitebridge Hill. (Over time the house was remodeled and today has a classical look [Gazette, Spring 1995].)
In the 1870s Gage built four frame houses for his children on Scott Avenue, one of which is 270.
This house contains all the charming features of the Victorian Gothic architecture popularized by designer Andrew Jackson Downing. In the mid-nineteenth century Downing published pattern books to promote this picturesque style of house. As the village grew in the 1860s and 1870s, Victorian Gothic became common in Winnetka as builders responded to popular demand.
Gingerbread trim on the steeply pitched gable roof, the pointed arch window above a first floor bay, and the entry porch with Gothic arch door are all typical features of the style. Today 270 Scott remains largely unchanged. With its surrounding sister houses, it still reflects the image of a country retreat.
The story of the house continues with its purchase by William Sewell Hamm of Chicago in 1903. Willa, the younger of his two daughters, returned to Winnetka in 1943 and occupied the house until her death in May 1997.
An independent spirit, Willa pursued a career beginning at Chicago’s National Academy of Art. She went on to become a successful art director with Marshall Field & Company and worked until she was 72.
Willa met her husband Herman Menzel, also an artist, at the National Academy in the early 1920s. Although he rarely exhibited and shied away from critical review, Menzel is considered an important “regionalist,” expressing scenes of everyday life in a simple, honest manner.
By the 1930s Menzel was virtually deaf, and in 1943 he moved to Winnetka with his wife and worked in a private studio on the grounds of 270 Scott. Menzel painted only one Winnetka scene—the smokestacks at the power plant in 1961. He died in 1988. (Gazette, Winter 1996.)