Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Howard Van Doren Shaw

Born in Chicago on May 7, 1869, his birth certificate perished in the Great Fire of 1871. His father was Theodore Andrews Shaw, a successful and prominent dry-goods merchant. His obituary (December 7, 1906)) says that he was a “prominent Presbyterian layman.” He died of heart disease at his residence, 1130 Lake Shore Dr., Chicago. Mr. Shaw served on many boards including the Presbyterian hospital, the Presbyterian home and the Second Presbyterian church. He was also a member of the Saddle and Cycle Club. The original family home was at 2124 Calumet Avenue, part of the Prairie Avenue district. He was buried at Graceland.

In my personal files is an unidentified page from a book which in reference to Howard Van Doren Shaw says: “His father was Theodore Andrews Shaw...whose Scotch Presbyterian ancestry went back to the settlement of Pennsylvania. His mother was Sarah Van Doren of Brooklyn, a descendant of Pieter Van Doren, who emigrated to America from Holland in 1639 and settled at New Amsterdam.”

Howard Van Doren Shaw attended the Harvard School for Boys in Hyde Park. He then attended Yale College, graduating in 1890 and then studied architecture (1890-91) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then went abroad and after a year returned to Chicago and entered the office of William LeBaron Jenney and William B. Mundie. Many of you will recognize the Mundie name as the architect of the Scottish Home and member of our St. Andrew Society Board of Governors. Interesting connection. I don’t believe that Mr. Shaw was ever a member of our Society but he certainly would have know about us through Bill Mundie.

In 1893, he married Miss Frances Lillian Wells who was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Wells. She lived with her parents in a grand house at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Twenty-sixth street. At their “house warming” in 1884, fifteen hundred invitations were issued, 1,000 accepted and there was never less than 800 present during an evening of dancing and eating. (Using Google maps, it appears the location is now a parking lot.)

It would be difficult to list all of the work of Howard Van Doren Shaw. “His work, particularly in domestic architecture, exerted a powerful influence on younger architects and on taste in general.” He designed many country homes in Lake Forest and other suburbs. In Chicago: the Lakeside Press Building; the Mentor Building; the Fourth Presbyterian Church (with Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson); the University Church of the Disciples of Christ; the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Memorial Theater; apartments at 1130 Lake Shore Drive, 2450 Lakeview Avenue and 191 E. Walton Place. When the Second Presbyterian burned in 1900, Shaw was commissioned to rebuild the sanctuary. He had been reared and baptized in the church and was just 31 at the time. The design reflects his interest in the Arts and Crafts movement and today remains one of the most intact religious Arts and Crafts interiors in the country.

He built a beautiful home in Lake Forest, IL. which he called “Ragdale” and today it serves as an artists’ retreat. It is considered by some to be one of the best examples of Arts and Crafts architecture. Here he “became an excellent carpenter, bricklayer, tree-surgeon, gardener and painter; he also designed the setting, lighting effects and scenery for an outdoor theater.” On our history tour of Lake Forest we saw the house of William Wrigley, Jr., which was designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw. It had been built in 1912 for Donald McClennan who named the house “Stornoway” after his family’s hometown in the Western Isles of Scotland. In 2003 the house was on the market for $9.9 million.

In 1912 the Village of Lake Forest wanted to create a “shopping center” where several businesses could be on the same plot of land. Shaw was asked to design this center and in 1915, he designed a U-shaped area with parking and a central courtyard. It is said that Market Square was the first planned shopping center in the United States and still functions quite well. At the east end is a fountain dedicated to Shaw and at the west end is a flag pole dedicated to the “Men of Lake Forest who gave themselves for the safety of their country and the world.”

Shaw was described as quiet, somewhat withdrawn, but he was very active in society. He was a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, chairman of the State Art Commission, a trustee of Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. “He was also the teacher of several younger men, who continued his ideals of utility and good taste. Stanley Anderson and Ralph Milman were among his loyal students.” (1) Stanley Anderson was the grandson of a Scot who helped import the first registered herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle to the United States.

Howard Van Doren Shaw died in Baltimore on May 6, 1926 at the age of 57. He is buried in Graceland cemetery, Chicago, Illinois. He was survived by his widow and three daughters: Evelyn who was Mrs. John T. McCutcheon; (the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist whose family emigrated from Scotland); Sylvia, who was Mrs. Clay Judson, and Frances Theodora Shaw who at the time was 12 years old. She later became Mrs. John Lord King.

Mrs. Frances Wells Shaw died October 12, 1937 at the age of 65. She was a world traveler and gave many presentations to Chicago clubs. She was also a writer including poetry and several plays. Sylvia Shaw was a noted sculptor.

The Shaw family was quite artistic and each one made a contribution to the life and times of greater Chicago. We are all indebted for their gifts and contributions. The name continues to be honored .

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

1. Lake Forest, Illinois History and Reminiscences, 1861-1961, page180
2. Other quotations are from various articles in the Chicago Tribune.

Upcoming events:

May 4, 2013 - Please join us for a conversation with Jean Davidson of the famous Harley Davidson Motor Company. Here is just part of the story:

Arthur and Mary Davidson left their tiny house in Brechin, Scotland, in 1852 and headed for America. They had five children: Ann, Margaret, Alexander, William C. And John. It was William C Davidson who fathered the three Davidson brothers, Arthur, Walter and William A. who co-founded the company with William S. Harley.

Jan Davidson has a wonderful story to tell and you will enjoy her presentation.

We also celebrate birthdays in May. So, if you have a birthday around that time come and join us for cake, scones, coffee and tea. Reservations can be made at 708-447-5092.


  1. "The sons and daughters of Prairie Avenue residents socialized at nearby meeting places like Bournique's dancing schood on 23rd Street, where Shaw met his future wife, Frances Wells. Frances was the daughter of Moses Dwight Wells, a wholesale dry goods merchant, and she and Howard shared a patrician East Coast background. She attended boarding school at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, CT. Her family summered at Wells Hill, their estate in Lakeville, CT. Her parents would later become Shaw's first clients, commissioning him to design a new house for this property." From The Architecture of Howard Van Doren Shaw by Virginia A. Greene.