Gazette Article by: Laurie Petersen
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2008
House of the Season: 445 Sheridan Road
Although known to most Winnetkans as the Clement Stone House for its long-time colorful owner, the property at 445 Sheridan Road has an intriguing history that predates his occupancy. Its Spanish Revival grandeur evokes the Roaring Twenties, but the house was actually built in the preceding decade, when the prevalent Prairie and Arts & Crafts styles were rivaling Classical and Colonial Revival in popularity. The red tile roofs, white stucco and ornamental iron work are characteristically Spanish, but the tall, irregular massing and abundance of tile-topped bays are unique.
The house was built for Mrs. A.P. (Lena) Gilmore, but the identity of the architect remains unknown. In November 1910 both the Chicago Daily Tribune and the Economist (the Crain’s Chicago Business of the era) announced that she had bought the Maynard homestead for $40,000. The “beautifully wooded” property was called “one of the most attractive on the north shore,” and the Economist reported that “The land is improved with an old frame house containing fourteen rooms, in which Mrs. Gilmore is now living.”
Gilmore bought the house from three brothers: E. Percy, Alfred, and Guy Maynard. Guy was living in Paris but the other two were active in Chicago and North Shore real estate. They sold individual properties as well as large lots for subdivision.
Lena Gilmore’s wealth also derived from real estate, and over half of her payment to the Maynard’s was in the form of a commercial building in Chicago. Born Leonora Morse c. 1860, she was living with her parents and five siblings in San Francisco as of 1880 but three years later was in Chicago, married to the recently widowed, 62-year-old Judge Van H. Higgins. The judge had extensive real estate holdings and his estimated fortune of $1,000,000 made him one of the city’s wealthiest men.
Judge Higgins died in 1893 but Lena continued to live in their home in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood. In 1898 she married Dr. Arnold P. Gilmore, and two years later the census lists the couple at the Kenwood address with seven other relatives and eight servants. When her niece Isabel became an orphan, the Gilmores adopted her. After her husband died in 1906, Lena took Isabel to live in California but they were back in the area by 1910, when she bought the 445 Sheridan property. Winnetka’s local paper, The Messenger, said she would live there with her sister and daughter.
Gilmore must have replaced the large frame house with the even larger stucco residence we see today, because in January 1912 The Messenger announced “Mrs. L.M. Gilmore of Sheridan Road is building a new residence on her property, the old Maynard place.” In June 1912 the Lake Shore News reported that the family had moved into their new home.
Both Lena and Isabel were active in Winnetka and Chicago social circles, and the grand third-floor ballroom must have been the venue for numerous parties, especially during Isabel’s 1916 debutante season. In 1919 Lena sold the house to Albert Pick for $100,000 and moved to California with Isabel, maintaining a part-time residence in Chicago.
In Caroline Harnsberger’s book Winnetka: The Biography of a Village, Albert Pick, Jr. describes how his father often expressed a desire to own the imposing Spanish-style mansion when they took pleasure drives up Sheridan Road from the city. Pick was the owner of a successful hotel and restaurant supply company that his father had begun in Chicago in 1857. In 1926 he sold Albert Pick Co., retired as its president, and founded the Pick Hotel Corporation in partnership with his son Albert Jr. Although the company continued for decades as a national hotel chain (its best known Chicago property being the Pick-Congress Hotel on S. Michigan Ave.), Pick experienced setbacks during the Great Depression and a bank sold the property in 1931.
The house was purchased by James G. McMillan, one of the few executives whose business thrived during the Depression. McMillan, who lived in the house until his death in 1965, was president of the Wander Company, manufacturers of Ovaltine. In the 1930s Ovaltine sponsored the radio show Little Orphan Annie and offered popular premiums such as secret decoder badges to listeners who sent in proofs-of-purchase. A 1935 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune has a photo of Mrs. James McMillan at the Chicago premiere of the Little Orphan Annie movie with 350 orphan children as her guests. It was McMillan who in 1936 added the coach house, which was later enlarged to accommodate six cars.
The next owner of the house, W. Clement Stone, is the most well-known. When he purchased the property in early 1966, Stone was a self-made multi-millionaire as founder of Combined Insurance Company (now Aon Corporation). Born into poverty on Chicago’s South Side in 1902, Stone was the living embodiment of the era’s popular Horatio Alger stories. After selling insurance policies in his teens, he started his own agency at the age of 20, and just 8 years later, in 1930, his company had 1,000 agents selling low-cost policies throughout the country.
Stone became widely known for extolling his brand of optimism, PMA (positive mental attitude) through lectures and publications. He was also a prominent supporter of Richard Nixon through the Watergate years and beyond. His multi-million dollar contributions to both of Nixon’s reelection campaigns were fodder for post-Watergate debates on campaign finance reform.
The Stones extensively renovated and lavishly decorated the house while continuing to live on Evanston’s lakeshore. An August 1967 article in the Chicago Tribune was headlined “They’re So Busy Partying There, Who Can Move In?” Among the events mentioned are a party that “included a sit down dinner on the first floor of the new house; champagne on the second, and dancing to two bands in the third floor ballroom.” The same article said they were reducing the number of bedroom suites to accommodate numerous walk-in closets (the 10,000 square foot house has four bedrooms) and converting a ground-floor porch to a study.
Stone and his wife Jessie both lived to age 100 and died on the same day two years apart: September 3, 2002 and 2004. The house went on the market a few months later and was sold in 2006 to Randy and Sherry Abrahams of Chicago. They worked with architect Paul Konstant to improve the property while maintaining its historic character.
Many thanks to Ray Kearney of the Winnetka Public Library for his thorough research of online Chicago Tribune and census records pertaining to Lena Gilmore and Clement Stone. His fascinating research document, on file at the Historical Society, was the impetus for this article.