Out of the Ashes
After the Great Fire of 1871, there was a building boom in Chicago. Rich industrialists like Marshall Field and George Pullman made their homes along Prairie Ave. Prairie Ave. became the center of Chicago's social scene during the late-nineteenth century. In the days before movie stars, news of what the "sifted few" did was the talk of the town. Lavish dinner parties and "celebrity" guests like Oscar Wilde's visit to Mrs. H.O. Stone's house, were a common occurrence.
We're all Japanese
One of the most celebrated parties to take place happened at 1905 S. Prairie Ave., at the home of Marshall Field. On January 1, 1886, the Fields celebrated the 18th birthday of their son Marshall Field Jr. The house was decorated like a Japanese village, with some guests even arriving in costume. The party was a catered affair and artist James McNeil Whistler (of "Whistler's Mother" fame) designed the party favors. The event was estimated to cost $75,000!
A Fair to Remember
The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was one of the great events of the nineteeth century. Without the support of the residence of Prairie Ave., it might
not have happened.
Like cities competing for the Olympics today, Chicago fought hard to win the right to host the 1893 World's Fair. After the Great Fire, Chicago wanted to prove to the world that it was a city to be reckoned with. Fair goers saw amazing things along the Midway Plaisance including the first ever Ferris Wheel.
A Look Back in Time
Much of the opulence of the golden age of Prairie Ave. is gone, but there are glimpses of it's former glory. Several of the old mansions remain, including the Kimball and Marshall Field Jr. mansions. The latter was recently converted to condominiums.
A Worthy Survivor
One of the most interesting survivors is the Glessner House at 1800 S. Prairie Ave. Designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson for John and Frances Glessner, it turned out to be a revolutionary urban dwelling. Its rusticated granite and fortress-like appearance made some Prairie Ave. residents think it was a jail or a church. John and Frances Glessner remained on Prairie Ave. until their deaths (Frances in 1932 and John in 1936). The house is a museum today, giving visitors a window on the past when Marshall Field, Philip Armour, and George Pullman, the three richest men in Chicago, lived on this fabled street.
You can tour the Glessner House, located at 1800 S. Prairie Ave., Wednesdays through Sundays at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. Wednesday tours are free. For more information, visit Glessner House Museum.