Saturday, March 7, 2015

John DeKoven House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [John DeKoven House (1874) Edward Burling, Burling & Adler, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The line of business tycoons streaming through the front parlor of the home of their recently   departed friend and colleague John DeKoven on the first day of May in 1898, encompassed nearly the entire list of Who's Who in Chicago. Offering-up an avalanche of accolades and tributes to the deceased banker and director of financial institutions and railroads, were men, who like the sixty-five year old former bank cashier had come to the city in the early 1850s and transformed a sleepy western outpost into one of the largest economic engines in the world. On hand to greet the mourners were DeKoven's forty-five year old wife of the past eight years Annie Larrabee Barnes DeKoven, and his forty-one year old daughter and only child Louise Hadduck DeKoven Bowen. Marshall Field served as a pallbearer.

  [John DeKoven House, 1150 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

He was only nineteen years old when John DeKoven came west and first sloshed through Chicago's mud filled streets in 1852. He found a job, courted and married Helen Hadduck the only child of wealthy Chicago pioneer Edward Hadduck, and by the time of the fire in 1871 had advanced to the position of head cashier at Merchant's National Bank and an increasingly lucrative career in finance and railroads. As the city's movers and shakers worked hard to put Chicago back on the post fire map, the DeKovens decided to join some of John's business compatriots on the north side and build a house on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Elm Street. Edward Hempstead and Ira Scott were at Dearborn and Maple. George Dunlap was building a little further south at Dearborn and Oak near DeKoven's friend and colleague Edward Waller's large single family residence, just south of the Potter Palmers who would briefly take-up residence on Dearborn before heading over to their purpose-built-palace on Lake Shore Drive. It was a cozy community of like-minded businessmen with similarly styled homes. John and Helen chose Edward J. Burling as their architect, who was also at work on the Hempstead, Scott and Dunlap houses.

  [John DeKoven House, Washington Square Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Burling had been practicing architecture in the city almost as long as DeKoven had been living  there. He came to Chicago as an apprentice carpenter and by 1871 had not only had a reputation as one of the city's most reputable designers, but had become one of its most prolific builders of fine buildings. After the fire had destroyed virtually his entire portfolio of work he teamed-up with Dankmar Adler, a young architect making a name for himself, and was commissioned by one former client after another to rebuild what had been consumed by the great conflagration. And although the DeKoven house would also be a new build - with its stone facade, window bays, and bracketed Mansard roof - the finished product didn't look much different than many of the mansions you would have seen around town before the fire had burned them all away.

  [John DeKoven House, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On March 25, 1886 while Louisa DeKoven was busy making plans for her upcoming June wedding to Joseph Bowen, her mother Helen died. Helen, born in 1835 within the palisades of old Fort Dearborn and the only child of early Chicago pioneers Edward and Louisa Graves Hadduck, had recently inherited a large part of her father's extensive real estate portfolio - which made Helen one of the city's wealthiest women. Now Louisa - she would replace the "a" with an "e" - an only child herself, would be the beneficiary of her grandfather's largesse. There was a bit of a surprise in store for the upper levels of society when, four years later, on April 9, 1890, among the names listed in the Chicago Tribune's record of marriage license applicants was Mr. John DeKoven, 56, and Mrs. Ann Larrabee Barnes, 36, a widow. Annie Larrabee was herself a member of old line Chicago pedigree, so although the age difference was two decades, social acceptance was never in question. When John breathed his last breath as April turned into to May in 1898, the house and its contents were left to Mrs. Barnes DeKoven, which would revert back to Louise when Annie died. That transaction transpired 50 years later when Ann DeKoven finally bid her earthly existence a farewell in 1948 at the ripe old age of ninety-five. Louise sold the house the following year.

  [John DeKoven House, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The buyer was Marie Biggs. Her late husband Joseph had created a catering company in Chicago in 1882, and was able to convince some of the city's well-heeled matrons to make use of his services at a time when most families of means had a large in-house staff to cook and serve their elegant meals in their highly ornamented dining rooms. Over the years Biggs moved from one location to another in and around Rush, Wabash and Huron streets on the city's north side, often taking over recently vacated family mansions. When the DeKoven house came on the market, Marie Biggs decided to leave her House of Biggs location at 30 E. Huron and take up residence on Dearborn where she not only operated the family business but lived above the store. In 1964, eighty-two year old  Marie decided that the time had finally come to hang up her apron and sold the entire Biggs operation to Edison Dick and Ray Castro. Dick came from money, his father Albert had founded a business in Chicago which made mimeograph machines among other things, and Edison used some of his good fortune to invest in restaurants like Cafe de Paris and Maison Lafitte. The new Biggs restaurant was going to put itself out on an untried limb and offer only a pre-fixe meal at a set price of either $6.50 or $7.50 per person - excluding alcohol - reservations only. Biggs became a Chicago dining institution before closing its doors for good in as the 20th century was coming to its own close. After a short stint as Il Mulino, the mostly intact historic house has been sitting vacant state since 2012, while chef Art Smith serves his Southern-inspired cuisine at Table 52 in the former DeKoven coach house on Elm Street.

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