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Gazette Article by: Nan Greenough
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 2010
One of the most distinctive houses in Winnetka stands at 660 Pine Street. It started out as a 1905 Arts and Crafts design by highly regarded architect W.C. Zimmerman (this is documented in the December 3, 1904 issue of The American Contractor magazine). Zimmerman also served as State Architect for Illinois, designing the Illinois Supreme Court Building and a number of buildings for Illinois universities, including on the flagship campus at Champaign-Urbana.
A circa 1907 photograph of 660 Pine Street reveals a house with front-facing gables and a massive red brick porch. Red brick covers the first story; stucco appears to cover the second. The house was built for W.H. Nicholls (a Winnetka Village Trustee 1914-15), who lived here with a family of four children until the mid-30s.
In 1935 the house was radically redesigned with a new Art Moderne façade by Andrew Rebori. New owner Matthew Blesius engaged Rebori to transform a traditional house into the most modern of styles. Was Blesius an aesthetic clairvoyant? Was Rebori a good talker? Or does the cutting-edge design reflect the collision of two worlds: high society and serious politics?
Rebori was socially well connected:one of his childhood friends was future presidential candidate Al Smith, and he married a niece of the Chicago Tribune’s publisher Robert R. McCormick. When Rebori moved to Chicago, Louis Sullivan became a mentor. Rebori designed the Racquet Club on North Dearborn and the highend co-op buildings at 2430 North Lakeview and 1325 North Astor. Along with 10 other architectural visionaries, he designed a House of Tomorrow at the 1933 Century of Progress. His other mid-1930s Art Moderne designs, which featured gently curving walls, low relief decoration and simplified forms, tended to be built of whitepainted brick, with avant-garde decorative use of brushed aluminum. Examples include the Frank F. Fisher Apartments at 1209 N. State St. in Chicago and several Wilmette houses. Rebori’s use of materials at 660 Pine Street fits more easily into the context of a traditional neighborhood: unpainted brick, with limestone decorative elements.
Blesius was well connected to the world of politics. His daughter Mary said he was a developer, as well as the attorney for Chicago Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson. Blesius himself signed the building permit for the Rebori redesign in 1935 on behalf of “The Waldorf Company,” possibly the name of his development company. A chauffeur and maid lived on the third floor of the house and five children lived on the second floor. Next to the front entry, Rebori designed a small hidden circular bar room (where ladies and children were never allowed) that evokes smoke-filled gatherings of “movers and shakers.”
Children lived there as well:daughter Suzanne Blesius remembers asking her mother for permission in the late 40s or early 50s to send a message after a party via a tin can line to her friend across the street. Permission was needed since the across-the-street communication pulley system was anchored on one end at her mother’s bedroom window. Three sets of handprints still impress the concrete next to the back steps: Suzanne, Mary and Jim Blesius.
If you study the front of 660 Pine Street, you can see the two roof-top gables from the original house. Beneath them, you see Rebori’s two gently curved red brick towers flanking the entrance, with a moderne-style low-relief decorative surround. Stained glass windows mark the curve of the interior stairway. The outer portions of the windows are composed of simplified triangle-based modern designs that surround traditional circular designs by F.X. Zettler Co. of Munich. Rebori’s redesign added one porch, enlarged another, and updated spaces. Multiple stained glass windows, designed by Edgar Miller (according to Rebori’s discussion with the owner in the 1960s) were added. Rebori’s low-relief decoration is echoed in the interior woodwork of the house.
In March, 1960 the Weaver family bought the house and moved here from Northbrook. Everett P. “Tuck” Weaver recalls that the size of the house was perfect for the size of their family, and the schools had a good reputation. The unique feature on the front of the house is an enormous ceramic sculpture by Abbott Pattison. This was acquired in the late 1970s and is discussed in the accompanying article about the Weaver family.