Friday, March 6, 2015

Louis H. Brink House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Louis H. Brink House (1909) E. E. Roberts, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Before there was a Prairie Style or Prairie School of architecture there was something called the "New School of the Midwest." The term was often used to describe the new style of architecture that had cropped up in and around the Chicago area lead by an architect named Frank Wright. In 1942 the esteemed architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock wrote a book about Wright and his like-minded Midwestern colleagues called In the Nature of Materials and the phrase "Prairie style" was prominently placed into the architectural lexicon. Then in 1972 H. Allen Brooks's seminal work The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries sealed the "Prairie" deal.

  [Louis H. Brink House, 533 N. Grove Avenue, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect Ezra Eben Roberts watched the New Style of the Midwest crop up all around him. Roberts lived just around the corner from Wright, and could see his neighbor's work and expanding influence first hand as E.E. walked up and down the streets of suburban Oak Park. Wright may have been getting a lot of attention with his new style, but Roberts got more jobs. He was happy to provide his clients with whatever style of house they felt comfortable in, and even used the phrase, "Designer of Homelike Homes" when advertising for his services. It made him a popular choice for many of the home building residents in the west suburban community and kept the architect very busy.

  [Louis H. Brink House, Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School National Historic District / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Although Roberts looked to historic revival styles for many of his designs, he was always open to new ideas and was happy to embrace some of what he'd seen Frank and other architects doing with their residential work. Vertical became more horizontal, brick and wood gave way to stucco, roof lines became broader, eaves were extended, the massing became more simplified and geometrical, as Roberts joined the ranks of the New School of the Midwest designers. In 1909 Louis H. Brink hired the architect to design one of these kinds of houses on a lot he'd purchased on Grove Avenue, not far from Roberts' own home.

  [Louis H. Brink House, Grove Avenue, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Grove Avenue property already had a house standing on it, but Brink wanted something new and modern. He was born in Chicago in 1865, was a founder of the Chicago Poultry Board and the Butter and Egg Exchange, and was in the commission trade business which had made him a millionaire. Roberts had recently completed a project for Charles Schwerin not far from the Brink location, and from the looks of things the architect used the Schwerin house for inspiration. Stucco had become a Roberts favorite by this time so that wasn't an unusual choice. The overall mass of both homes was nearly identical right up to the arched dormers tucked into the roof line. But to shake things up a bit the Brink's dormers would be a little broader, the porch roof would be flat with the stairs tucked behind a wall, and the geometrical pattern of the banded wood trim would be reworked.

  [Louis H. Brink House, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When Louis Brink died on April 18, 1931 at the age of sixty-six, he left an estate valued in the neighborhood of $1.25 million (around $19.5 million today), with his three sons named as executors. The income from the trust was to pay for his wife Ida's expenses and care, while any remaining income was to be split among the sons and their sister. Louis had stipulated that upon Ida's death whatever monies were left were to divided into four equal shares. John, Laurence and Ernest would get their money outright, but Jessie's share was to be held in a trust overseen by her surviving brothers, with the income from that trust distributed to her in quarterly payments. In 1933 Ida and Jessie sued the estate and contested the terms of the will in court. The suit must have made for uncomfortable living arrangements. Jessie lived in her brother Laurence's house next door to where Ernest lived with their mother. The judge found no grounds for the suit and dismissed the case, and Ida lived in the house until her death in 1947. E.E. Roberts had died ten years earlier, leaving behind a legacy of over 100 projects built in Oak Park, far more than the 25 designed by his internationally famous neighbor.

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