Thursday, February 19, 2015

Elbridge G. Keith House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Elbridge G. Keith House (1870) J.W. Roberts, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Elbridge G. Keith House sits next to a large piece of vacant property once filled with other mansions, back when Chicago's most powerful and wealthiest citizens lived along Keith's Prairie Avenue. Yet when Keith built his house in 1870 it looked pretty much like the picture does now, sitting relatively alone on the prairie in an emerging residential neighborhood that would soon become Chicago's first Gold Coast.

  [Elbridge G. Keith House, 1900 S. Prairie Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect J.W. Roberts designed the large single family home for the Keiths in the chic and popular Second Empire style. And as other movers and shakers like George Pullman and Marshall Field followed Keith to Prairie Avenue, the street brimmed with houses topped-off by large, prominent Mansard roofs and heaping with elaborate brackets and ornate column capitals.

  [Elbridge G. Keith House, Prairie Avenue Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Keith and his brothers Edson and Osborne were partners in a successful and profitable millinery business and all lived with their families on Prairie Avenue. Edson lived next door to Elbridge in a Second Empire mansion larger than his brothers, which was torn down in the 1930s. The Keith's business partnership broke up in the 1880s as Elbridge moved on to become a founder and the president of the Metropolitan National Bank, while overseeing a growing personal fortune. After a merger with the First National Bank, Keith became president of the Chicago Title and Trust Company, a position he held until his death in 1905. His wealthy neighbors were dying off as well and their children weren't interested in living in their parent's old hulking mansions, a different lifestyle for an older era.
His widow Harriet stayed in the home for a few more years, but high-tailed it out of the changing neighborhood for the greener pastures of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago's newly minted Gold Coast neighborhood on the city's north side. In the 1920's as the south side's former Gold Coast became more and more industrialized and dominated by printing businesses both large and small, the house was used as office space by the Domestic Engineering Publications company. And as one mansion after another was demolished and the area became a desolate wasteland by the late 1960s, architect, historian and preservationist Wilbert Hasbrouck and his wife Marilyn purchased the former Keith House, which became the home of their architecturally focused Prairie Avenue Bookshop. Now only one of five remaining houses in an area once packed to the rafters with large 19th and early 20th century mansions, the Elbridge Keith House has been lovingly maintained and restored by the family who purchased the property in 1977.

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