I lived in the Buena Park neighborhood from September 2014 til August 2015. Like any new resident would do, I took a stroll in my new hood. That's when I came across some of the most ornate, lavish homes you'll find in Chicago: Hutchinson Street. Some of these homes take up 5 city lots. Think about that, FIVE LOTS!
In 1854, James Rees and Elisha Hundley built a large, extravagant resort-style hotel at the present-day location of Byron Street and Marine Drive. They were hoping to attract the attention of wealthy investors to purchase land in the surrounding area. Construction of the hotel was almost over, but it still didn’t have a name. Rumor has it that Walter L. Newberry (of whom the Newberry Library was named after) stood on the front portico (porch) of the hotel and was so delighted by the translucent view conjured the name ‘Lake View House’. Lake View House was soon crowded to capacity after a cholera epidemic swept the city and forced residents to seek refuge. Because nothing is as good for business as a full-blown cholera epidemic. Many of these ‘refugees’ were so impressed by the crisp air and beautiful view that they purchased homesteads nearby. By the time Lake View House closed in 1890, land sales in the vicinity were booming. Things really started kicking into gear once better transportation was introduced to the area.
First there were the little steam engines called ‘dummies’ on the North Chicago street railway. These dummies pulled three cars from Broadway (Evanston) north to Irving Park Rd (Graceland) and west to Clark Street (Green Bay Road), but the public wasn’t very fond of the smoke, noise, and sparks they generated. The advent of cable car technology replaced these steam engines. In the 1880s, the electric streetcar system took over as they were cheaper to operate and accommodated more customers. Soon these owners of lakefront property were making a fortune subdividing their land.
That's exactly what James B. Waller did. J.B. Waller moved his family to Chicago in 1858 and entered into a real estate partnership with his brothers William, Edward, and Henry. He owned a plantation back home in Kentucky. Small side note to show what kind of man James was: Before moving to Chicago, he offered his slaves their freedom. None of them accepted this privilege and all remained as long as their master continued to reside there. Some continued to seek his advice even after moving to Chicago. The Waller family members became very influential and were one of the elite families who built Chicago to what it is today.
Here’s a little rundown of influences other Waller relatives had on the city:
In 1869 James’ brother, Edward, ventured out west with famed Chicagoan Daniel Burnham hoping to strike gold during the famous gold rush. They failed to strike gold so they hopped on a cattle train back to Chicago and Waller went back into the real estate business. Waller was part of a consortium of investors who financed buildings like the Home Insurance Building (first skyscraper built ever), and the Monadnock buildings. The Loop’s gem, the Rookery, would not have been built if it wasn’t for Edward Waller. The site was city-owned land for school purposes, but Waller had influence with his good friend Mayor Carter Harrison, a fellow Kentuckian. Harrison was prohibited from selling school property to Waller, but he did the next best thing: leased it personally to Waller and his management firm for 99 years.
Edward Waller was one of the first patrons of considerably the best American architect of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright. Shortly after Wright was kicked to the curb by the firm of Adler & Sullivan, Waller collaborated with Wright to build the first subsidized housing units in Chicago: Francisco Terrace apartments and the Waller Apartments, the latter still standing today. When Edward Waller decided the Rookery’s lobby needed a face life from its dark and drull iron lobby, he called upon his friend and colleague who designed other Waller-owned buildings, Frank Lloyd Wright. As it is displayed today, Wright encased the iron columns and covered nearly every inch of the lobby with incised and gilded marble, adding bronze chandeliers with prismatic glass. Waller was the building manager of the Rookery for 43 years, up until his death in 1931
James’ son, Robert A. Waller served as President of the Lincoln Park Board for two years, and was selected to serve as second vice president as well as a director on the Board of the Columbian Exposition. He was one of the men who went to Washington D.C. to secure the passage of the bill which made it possible for Chicago to host the World’s Fair. The board included the likes of Cyrus McCormick, Joseph Medill, and Potter Palmer. He was then appointed City Controller in 1897 by Mayor Carter Harrison; basically his right-hand man/second most powerful man in the city. He died in 1899 while still in office.
In 1860, James Waller hired Joseph Lyman Silsbee, to build a house occupying a portion of Waller’s 53 acres of Lakefront Property. The Waller house caught the attention of many, including one Eugene Field living at the corner of Clarendon and Hutchinson. Eugene Field was one of Chicago's prophetically proclaimed humorists and popular children’s poets, who made a poem titled "The Ballad of Waller Lot."
In 1896, the North Shore Suburban newspaper quoted Buena Park as one of "The Imperial Suburbs of Chicago". "A suburb famed no less for its natural beauty than for its refined, intellectual and god-fearing citizens." In the evening citizens were seen "lolling on their luxurious porches, listening to the plaintive melodies of the bugler at the Marine Hospital." This hospital was located at the Walt disney Magnet School and the large lot directly behind it.
Isn’t it amazing to hear this kind of history. President Obama put it perfectly: the most ordinary-looking of places usually have some of the most extraordinary stories to tell. Click on any home below to find out more information: