The Winnetka Village Hall

Gazette Article by: Deborah Sting
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2007

A stately limestone building, the Winnetka Village Hall at 510 Green Bay Road sits in the center of one of the village’s bustling business districts. Since its construction in 1925, the Village Hall has greatly contributed to Winnetka history as the center of local government and a location where Winnetkans can become involved in the organization of their community.

The location and construction of the Village Hall are direct results of the 1921 Plan of Winnetka. As the population of Winnetka and nearby Chicago grew in the early twentieth century, leaders in Winnetka wanted their Village to develop in a way that ensured the safety of the citizens and increased the sense of a close-knit community. In 1917 the Village Council created the Winnetka Plan Commission, a group of sixty-three Winnetka citizens, to determine how the Village should approach future growth.

The Winnetka Plan Commission hired Edward H. Bennett, architect for the famous Plan of Chicago of 1909, to research the needs of Winnetka and prepare the final Plan of Winnetka in 1921. In the plan, Bennett encouraged the community to focus on preserving the country-like setting of the community from the intrusion of traffic and dirt by rewriting zoning laws, lowering the railroad tracks, and creating a village center that included a new village hall, main school building, and community auditorium. Bennett also determined that the best location for these three main public buildings would be across from the Elm Street train station in a central area the Village could develop into a business district.

The auditorium never came to fruition, Skokie School was built in 1921/22 several blocks west of downtown, and the depression of the railroad tracks was not completed until 1943. By 1925, however, the Village Council was ready to embark on the construction of a Village Hall in the space Bennett suggested. In the 1921 Plan, the commission had urged that the Village Hall building “possess a beauty and dignity worthy of the uses to which they are dedicated.” Through a competition open only to Winnetka architects, the committee picked a Georgian Revival style design by Edwin H. Clark.

Clark had begun practicing architecture in 1903 in the office of William A. Otis, a well-known Winnetka architect. By the time he was hired by the Winnetka Village Council in 1925, Clark was leading his own architectural firm. He became well known for designing the administration building and primate house at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Zoological Park (now known as Brookfield Zoo), and many private residences on the North Shore and throughout the Chicago region.

Clark’s design for the Winnetka Village Hall incorporated several Georgian Revival style elements. Like Federal and Greek Revival styles, Georgian Revival architecture had risen in popularity during the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as Americans focused on architectural styles popular around the time of the American Revolution. In the Winnetka Village Hall, the Georgian Revival style is evident in the rigid symmetry of the building, the modified Palladian windows, and certain decorative elements. The roof features symmetrical chimneys flanking a central clock tower, and the placement of the windows on the north and south wings mirror each other. Even the east and west faces show symmetry in the location of the doors and windows. Palladian windows, arched central windows flanked by shorter and narrower rectangular windows are found throughout the building. The broken pediment with carved urn and columns surrounding the main door are decorative elements also commonly found in Georgian Revival style buildings.
Less than two months after the approval of Clark’s design, formal ground breaking ceremonies took place on March 30, 1925. Construction continued throughout the summer and fall. Although the building was to be called the Winnetka Administration Building, village trustees changed the name to the Village Hall in October when they discovered that Administration Building was too long to inscribe on the stone plaque above the main door.

On March 22, 1926, 500 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the new Village Hall. In a speech reported in the March 27 Winnetka Talk, the Village Council took pleasure in announcing that the $240,000 cost of the building was fully paid for through savings and revenue generated by the village ownership of local water and electric utilities.
The citizens of Winnetka continue to take pride in the Village Hall. Although the Village did not implement all the recommendations of the 1921 Plan, and renovations over the years have altered the Village Hall, the building remains a focal point of the community and a center of local government.

Deborah Sting was an intern at the Society from January 2006 to August 2007 while earning her master’s degree in public history from Loyola University.

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