Thursday, February 19, 2015

William McCormick Blair House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [William McCormick Blair House (1916) Arthur Heun, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

This rather unassuming and sedate, Georgian/Federal Revival-style single family home may not look like much from the outside but the builder's family had a long history in Chicago, from its beginnings as a remote fort outpost to its transformation into a major metropolis. The marriage of William McCormick Blair and Helen Hadduck Bowen joined two pioneer families into one union, and one house, on Chicago's Gold Coast mansion-lined Astor Street. Designed by Arthur Heun in 1916, the 14,000 square foot house saw over 10,000 supporters of Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson come to its doorstep on the night of July 26, 1952, as he headed-off to the Chicago Amphitheater to accept his party's nomination for President of the United States. Helen and William called 1416 Astor home until her death in 1972, and his demise in 1982 at the age of 97. But we cannot share the story of this house without talking a little bit about Helen's mother Louise de Koven Bowen who had the McCormick Blair house built, and who, it just so happened, lived next door.

  [William McCormick Blair House, 1416 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Louise de Koven mother's Helen Hadduck was born inside the timber walls of the original Fort Dearborn - which stood at today's intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. Louise's father John de Koven had come to the young city in 1856, married Helen, and became a rich and well connected businessman. Louise herself went on to marry Joseph T. Bowen, a wealthy businessman like her father, and in 1891 built one of the first houses to rise on the northern end of Astor Street. This prime section of the Gold Coast had once been part of the old Catholic Cemetery, and when the Church relocated the graves and began to develop the land into residential lots, the Bowen's purchased one of the largest lots on the block.

  [William McCormick Blair House, Astor Street Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The brick wall you can still see today running along the house's side yard reproduces what was once a much longer connective link between the Blairs and the Bowens. When the Bowen's daughter Helen married the young William McCormick Blair of the reaper family, Louise and Joseph built a house at the southern end of their expansive piece of property, separated by a shared yard, and eventually concealed behind a conjoining brick wall. After Louise's death in 1953 at the age of 94, her children sold her house to a developer who intended to demolish the old mansion and build a multi-story apartment building on the site. It took almost 20 years for that to happen, but in 1972 a large concrete and glass structure rose-up over the McCormick Blair yard, casting it forever into deep shadow. Just three years later, in 1975, Astor Street became a historic district - a designation that might have prevented the Bowen house from being torn down.

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