Sunday, March 1, 2015

John Rankin House, Oak Park, IL.
 by: chicago designslinger

 [John Rankin House, Oak Park, IL. (ca. 1889) Patton & Fisher, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1889 if you were a somewhat prosperous businessman and you wanted your financial success reflected in your choice of housing, you might opt for the very voluptuous architectural style known as Queen Anne. Voluminous rooflines, a multitude of facade coverings, dormers, brackets, wrap around porches, the more the better. So when John Rankin, a well-to-do commission house owner decided to make his presence known in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, he went Queen Anne.

  [John Rankin House, 245 Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, IL. /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Rankin came to the U.S. from Scotland in 1849, settled in Chicago, and got into the crockery business. By 1875 he realized that there was big money to be made in trading grain futures in the Chicago-based commodities market and started a commission house. Commission houses traded futures contracts for clients and collected commissions on those trades. You could make a good living betting on the future price of wheat, corn and barley - and many Chicagoans still do to this day. Rankin came to Oak Park in 1880 by way of another Chicago suburb Elgin, and eventually settled into this large Queen Anne dwelling designed by architects Normand Patton and Reynolds Fisher. The prominent house sat on a very large corner lot at Kenilworth Avenue and Erie (later Elizabeth) Court, and was hard to miss. The Rankins had arrived.

  [John Rankin House, Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School of Architecture National Historic District /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Patton & Fisher had only been in business for four years when the house was built in 1889. Even so, they were already on their way to establishing a firm that would  become one of the area's busiest offices designing practical, client-pleasing, on time, and on budget work. Their domestic projects ranged in style from Queen Anne to Colonial Revival. And although not known for their cutting edge design, over the next decade they would complete just as many houses in Oak Park - including Normand Patton's own residence - as Patton's much more famous neighbor Frank Lloyd Wright. In the year that the Rankin house was built, the commission agent made another investment in Oak Park real estate when he purchased a group of empty lots on nearby Oak Park Avenue. Rankin built spec houses on the narrower more confined lots, and in 1896 his son George bought one of them for he and his wife Charlotte and their baby son John. And in 1900 George Hemingway, father of the future author Ernest, ended-up buying the Rankin's 2 1/2-story house at 639 N. Oak Park Avenue.

  [John Rankin House, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

George had sold the home in 1899 following Charlotte's unexpected death the year before. He moved in with his sister Margaret Rankin Dunlop who lived up-the-street from their parents, while baby John was put under the care of his grandparents and the 3-year-old's four aunts who were unmarried and still lived in the large Kenilworth Avenue house with the senior Rankins. On October 11, 1901 - young John's 5th birthday - a still despondent George Rankin went out on to his sister's porch and shot himself in the head. The following year the Rankins sold their Kenilworth Avenue Queen Anne and moved around the corner on to Forest Avenue just north of Elizabeth Court, where John Rankin the successful commission house owner and broken-hearted father died in 1904.

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