J.E.O. Pridmore, Edgewater Architect
The Man and His Work
By: LeRoy Blommaert
John Edmund Oldaker Pridmore has a dual claim to being an Edgewater architect: he lived in the community for most of his professional life and some of his most important residential commissions were executed in Edgewater.
J.E.O. Pridmore was born July 18, 1864, in England. When he was about 16 years old, the family immigrated to the United States. In 1883, after three years on a Minnesota farm, he and his family moved to Chicago where, at age 19, he was accepted as an apprentice draftsman with a leading firm of architects.
Seven years later, he opened his own office on the south side. A year later, he moved his offices downtown and, two years after that, in 1893, began a five-year partnership with Leon Stanhope. In 1899 he was on his own again and remained so for the rest of his professional life.
In 1900, Pridmore moved from the south side to Edgewater. The first of his three Edgewater homes still stands at 6249 N. Magnolia. He designed it and the house to the south for a relative of his mother. Four years later, he designed for himself a larger house at 5959 N. Winthrop. It was in this house, which unfortunately has since been demolished, that he spent the major portion of his professional and family life.
Towards the end of his life, he moved into an apartment in the building immediately north of his house. The building, for which he was also the architect, still stands at 6003 N. Winthrop. J.E.O. Pridmore married twice. His first wife, Carole Lee, died in 1914 at the age of 50. Two years later, he married May Blossom Hull at the Church of the Atonement. Sadly, she died nine years later, leaving him at age 61 with two sons, six and three years old. Fortunately, his wife’s sister helped raise them. After a brief illness he died on February 1, 1940, at age 75. He was buried from the Church of the Atonement and is interred in Rosehill Cemetery.
Besides being a husband, father and practicing architect, Pridmore was, at various times in his life, a world traveler, author, lecturer, pianist, composer and occasional poet. Locally, he was vestryman of the Church of the Atonement and its principal architect, having designed the parish house, rectory and the extensive expansion of the church itself.
He was also, for his time, somewhat of a community activist. In June 1908, less than three weeks after the Northwestern Elevated Company at last extended the “L” through Evanston (albeit at ground level), a meeting was called at the Chicago Athletic Club to protest the lack of convenient service. It seems that at Wilson Avenue, some cars were detached and patrons traveling further north were told to move to the car ahead.
J.E.O. was quoted in the Chicago Herald as objecting to this “move to the car ahead” practice and urging through service. In short order, the practice was dropped as additional equipment was put into service.
Though J.E.O. Pridmore was a practicing architect for more than 40 years, he is remembered not for the quantity of his work, but for its quality. Unlike a number of other Edgewater architects, he designed few single family homes. Most of his commissions were for larger projects and he specialized in theaters and apartment homes.
Some of the theaters he designed in the Chicago area survive today though, in certain cases, have been much altered. They include the Vic, Princess, Harding, Cort, Clark, Adelphi, Sheridan and Nortown. He also designed Dr. Preston Bradley’s Peoples Church, the auditorium of which has more in common with a theater than with a traditional church.
Still standing, but no longer so named, is his Bush Temple of Music at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Clark Street. It is a major structure that has been recently refurbished.
Very early in his career, Pridmore began to specialize in what might best be called apartment homes of the better class. An early example (1903) of an apartment building he designed still stands at 4715-17 N. Sheridan. It has since been altered by the addition of a “dickey” storefront. But, even in its present state of disrepair and alteration, the building retains some sense of its original grandeur, when it contained six large apartments with three baths each.
But, fittingly enough, his greatest legacy in the category of grand apartment homes remains in Edgewater. He designed, over a period of less than five years, three buildings, all within an area of one square block, that both individually and collectively surpass anything done elsewhere in Chicago in the category of grand apartments in small, walk-up buildings.
Those buildings are “The Manor House” at the southeast corner of Bryn Mawr and Kenmore, “The Beaconsfield” at the southeast corner of Winthrop and Hollywood and “The Gables” at the southeast corner of Kenmore and Hollywood. Unfortunately, “The Gables” was demolished and replaced by a nondescript 4+1 building and the apartments of “The Manor House” and “The Beaconsfield” have since been cut up from their original configuration to provide additional units.
Nonetheless, both “The Manor House” and “The Beaconsfield” stand today as wonderful examples of Pridmore’s craft. One cannot walk past them without realizing instinctively that there is something special about them, something which one has seen nowhere else in Chicago. Of particular significance is the way each building is positioned on the site to maximize light and air entering the apartments.
“The Manor House” originally housed only six apartment homes - two to a floor. It probably was the grandest 6-flat ever built in Chicago. Because the building reflects its English Tudor heritage and because the crest above the courtyard is that of England, it has been rumored for years that it was the home of the British consulate. This rumor, however, has never been confirmed.
“The Beaconsfield” originally contained 15 apartments - in four separate buildings connected by a common basement. It was noted that “every suite has its own sun parlor and sleeping porch and practically every bedroom has a bath attached.”
“The Gables” contained nine apartments in three separate but connected buildings, ranging from 10 to 14 rooms each. A 1912 description gives an idea of its splendor:
Some of the apartments will contain a private ballroom; others will have a feature which exemplifies the originality of the plan. Private garden terraces with balustrade and red quarry tile floors will be graded up to the level of the first apartments from which one may walk directly from the orangerie (sun parlor)…
The library and dining rooms are designed with faithful attention to Elizabethan spirit and detail. Oak paneling, carved stone chimney pieces. and geometric tracery on plastered ceilings. with leaded art glass windows and rich mahogany and English oak make these rooms the counterpart of the living rooms of the English manor. In size they will be splendid, 20 x 30 feet being the average for the library.
Though less original in design and less grand in scale, four other Pridmore buildings in Edgewater, besides the Church of the Atonement, are worth noting. They are the former Stickney (private) School at 1054 Hollywood, two three-family buildings at 5825 and 5847 N. Kenmore and the two-family home at 5733 N. Kenmore.
The latter is remarkable for its ability to disguise its nature so well. From the outside it looks like a single-family home. That it really is a two-family home can be discerned only from an inspection of the interior space.
The Manor House, The Gables and this two-family home were featured in a 1920s promotional brochure. “Apartments of the Better Class” by real estate brokers Partridge and Bradley.
J.E.O. Pridmore was an architect of considerable ability and originality, whose work has not received anywhere near the recognition it deserves. It is hoped that this article will contribute to correcting this oversight and urge people to appreciate the beauty Pridmore left for all of us to enjoy, if we but take the time to do so.