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Walter Burley Griffin Corridor, Beverly (Chicago), Illinois

WALTER AND BEVERLY

getaway-chicago logo In a pleasant environ south and slightly west of downtown Chicago, the Getaway Guys explored a cluster of residences by Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) designed between 1909-1914. Born in Maywood, Illinois, Griffin graduated from the University of Illinois in 1899 and worked with several early proponents of the “Prairie Style,” including Dwight Perkins (1899-1901) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1901-1906) with whom he is probably most closely identified..

walter1Griffin’s collaboration with Wright ended acrimoniously in 1906 and shortly thereafter he established his own practice in Chicago. An important first commission was the Harry V. Peters residence at 4731 North Knox Avenue in Chicago. A real estate developer, Peters may have been instrumental in the construction of the now famous Beverly houses of which there are 13 and form the core of the Walter Burley Griffin corridor of this un-prepossessing suburban enclave. The Peters residence incorporated an “L” shaped floor plan which allowed for open space and an economy of construction, making it suitable for the residential needs of a growing middle class.

walter2walter3Distinctive and easily identified, the Beverly-Griffin residences are not elite residences built for an exclusive clientele. They appear to be comfortable abodes that blend in nicely with their neighbors. Remarkably, they are well preserved and seem to be a point of pride by their owners.

Many of the Beverly homes are on 104th Place between Wood and Prospect. There are others on adjacent blocks and some slightly grander examples at 1540 West 102nd Place and 10561 South Longwood Drive. All have been designated landmarks by the City of Chicago.

walter4walter5Griffin married Marion Lucy Mahony in 1911, an architecture graduate of M.I.T. Mahony too, had been an associate of Wright in Oak Park, Illinois and is credited with producing some of the most stunning graphic renderings of Wright’s designs. Along with Griffin, she had a keen interest in landscape design as an integral part of architecture. Together they worked on numerous projects of note and in 1912 Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony were awarded the commission of a lifetime. They were responsible for the design and construction of Australia’s new capital in Canberra: not only the buildings, but the overall plan for the city with its many parks and lakes. Their former employer, Frank Lloyd Wright, was probably green with envy.walter6

Designs commissioned by democratic governments may be one of the biggest headaches of the architecture profession. Griffin and Mahony found out the hard way, and their Canberra project must have been disappointing and demoralizing. Pierre Charles L’Enfant (1754-1825) possibly had an easier time with his vision for Washington, D.C. because the site was a malarial swap which may have kept politicians and meddlesome bureaucrats away. Baron Haussmann (1809-1891) tore through medieval Paris with seeming abandon to create the City of Light, with Napoleon III’s encouragement and financial support. Albert Speer (1905-1981), with Adolph Hitler’s support and enthusiasm, re-envisioned Berlin without any apparent interference. Who would dare?

walter9No such luck for the Griffin-Mahony team in Canberra. Nine years after accepting this commission, they washed their hands of it. Little of their innovative, comprehensive design was built. For the remaining 16 years of his life Griffin remained very active (particularly in India), and never returned professionally to the United States. His pre-Australia American legacy can be found in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and in the Chicago area. There are Griffin residences still standing in Elmhurst, Evanston, Kenilworth, Wilmette and Winnetka. However the greatest concentration of his Illinois work is in Beverly. For further pictorial evidence of this iconic, midwest American architect, visit the www.prairiestyles.com website.

Walter Burley Griffin is buried in Lucknow, India, where he and Marion Lucy Mahoney completed numerous commissions after their Canberra experience, including the University of Lucknow Library. June 2012

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