The Windsor House

Gazette Article by: Susan Curry
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 2005

House of the Season: The Windsor House

The site of the 2005 Winnetka Historical Society Benefit Gala was the Windsor House on Sheridan Road was commissioned for a new bride by a young husband who had unexpectedly inherited his father’s publishing business. Henry Haven Windsor had founded the very successful magazine, Popular Mechanics , in 1902. His son and namesake was only 26 when he was forced to step in as editor and publisher upon his father’s untimely death. Within the space of that year, Henry Haven Windsor Jr.‘s engagement to Louise Hunter was announced in the New York Times June 19, 1927.

Louise Hunter was the ward of George M. Verity, the president of the American Rolling Mill Company. She had studied singing at the Cincinnati College of Music and toured with the Little Playhouse Company. She later studied in New York City with Alberte Jeannotte for two years. Louise made her opera debut in “Manon” with the de Feo Grand Opera Company, and, at 19, joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1923. A New York Times reviewer described her concert performance in the sestet from “Lucia di Lammermoor” as “modest but comely and much applauded.” Louise left the Metropolitan Opera in 1926 at the request of Arthur Hammerstein to tour in his operetta, “The Golden Dawn.”

After their marriage, Henry hired the father-son architects Ernest and Peter Mayo, known for elegant, stately residences throughout the North Shore, to build a grand home in the French Eclectic style. This style makes reference to the manor homes of Normandy and Brittany and is characterized by steep hipped roofs and French doors. The stonework at the corners and around the windows is typical. Louise’s and Henry’s house has two facades: one face is fronted by a stone balustrade overlooking Lake Michigan; the other has a forecourt and formal garden.

Ernest and Peter Mayo designed a magnificent music room for Louise. It is two stories in height with symmetrical wrought-iron staircases rising to a second-floor gallery. The floors are of walnut marquetry and parquetry. It is said that the acoustics are wonderful. Louise’s and Henry’s son remembers many hours of practice and frequent recitals.

The Windsors led a glamorous life together jaunting back and forth between Winnetka and Palm Beach, Fla., where they were part of Palm Beach’s “social colony.” Louise participated in many charity events there, in company with such luminaries of the era as Jerome Kern, Billie Burke, George Gershwin and Mr. and Mrs. Hammerstein. She performed at President Roosevelt’s 1930 birthday ball at the Everglades Club, an event chaired by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst. The young couple entertained extensively, and in 1931, they asked Mayo and Mayo to design an addition to their house for their more informal parties. The Palm Room, with an extraordinary mural and brilliant tiles, reflects their love of travel and tropical climes.

Henry Haven Windsor Jr., outshone his very successful father. Under his leadership, Popular Mechanics grew to a circulation of 2 million with four foreign editions. He founded Windsor Publishing, Popular Mechanics Press and Science Digest . The business boomed during the Depression and World War II. The richness of the Windsor House interior reflects the great wealth generated by Henry’s talent.

The Windsor House remains an architectural jewel in Winnetka thanks to the meticulous stewardship of the present owners, who share with the original owners a willingness to open their home in support of charitable endeavors. Supporters of the Winnetka Historical Society were invited to visit this extraordinary landmark June 11, 2005, when the Windsor House hosted the Winnetka Historical Society Benefit Gala.

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