Historic District: "De"-Tour
By: K. Gemperle
June 8, 1996, Bryn Mawr and Sheridan Road - The lakefront was clothed in a fog that had continued from the prior week. 11:00 a.m. and no sign of the sun as the tourgoers gathered at the Edgewater Beach Apartments for the beginning of a walk through the Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District. Maps of the tour along with copies of advertising from bygone Bryn Mawr businesses were passed out. Kathy Gemperle, President of EHS, gave the intro explaining that the District on Bryn Mawr was created in 1995 after years of discussions and a previous application in 1985.
The first building visited, the Edgewater Beach Apartments, kindly allowed the tour group into its lobby for the brief introduction and talk about the 1927-28 construction of the Benjamin Marshall building and its relationship to the now lost Edgewater Beach Hotel complex to the south. The tour then split into two groups, one led by Gemperle and the other by Clare Tobin, an EHS member who has worked on Bryn Mawr Avenue for the Edgewater Community Council for 10 years.
Standing at the original seawall and looking both south and west, each tour group was asked to imagine bustling Bryn Mawr as a quiet little street back in 1886, when J.L. Cochran built the train station and Guild Hall - not much else was around.
In Edgewater’s first decade, the street gradually filled with a combination of large homes and large, flat buildings. The most significant one still remaining is the Manor House at Kenmore and Bryn Mawr, built in 1908 by Edgewater architect J.E.O. Pridmore under the direction of the Dalton family. Like the Edgewater Beach Apartments, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The apartments were originally quite grand in style and space with library, maids’ quarters and many bedrooms. The recent redevelopment of the site included a reconfiguration of the units. Developer Jerry Buttimer graciously allowed our damp but enthusiastic group to tour a model apartment.
Tourgoers then moved west along the street to look at the early mixed-use (commercial/residential) buildings, mostly situated between Winthrop and Broadway. Of special note were: the 1912 Bryn Mawr Theater - a Rapp & Rapp building which has recently been drastically altered to accommodate a fruit and vegetable market, the 1899 Bristle building and, on the south side of the street, the 1898 Michels building which housed the first Bryn Mawr theater.
The street east of there then leveled off at three stories high for at least one decade until the advent of the high rise hotel era. Perhaps triggered by construction of the Edgewater Beach Hotel’s second building in 1921, that soon followed the Bryn Mawr Hotel in 1927 and the Belle Shore Hotel, named for Belle Malter, wife of developer Max Malter, in 1928-29. Belle and Max, by the way, used to live at 5401 N. Winthrop.
The Edgewater Presbyterian Church (1925-27) was the last stop on the tour. While it was unavailable for an interior tour because of a funeral service being held at the time, tourgoers learned how the Church has been a significant part of the history of the street. The parish first built a beautiful, small church (architect: George W. Maher) on the southwest corner of Kenmore and Bryn Mawr and then planned a larger complex of Community House and church on the northeast corner. The stock market crash of 1929 prevented construction of the new church building and a sanctuary was created within the adaptable Community House’s original theater auditorium instead.
Many tourgoers offered personal memories of several sites, including the defunct 1111 Club (1111 W. Bryn Mawr), once a gathering place for jazz and more, located in the CTA complex just east of the tracks. Old photos of the various buildings were shown by the tour guides so that a feel for the original structures could be experienced. Fortunately, many of the buildings stand unaltered since their construction.
As a microcosm of urban development, the Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District holds a great deal of architectural significance. The street, today, exemplifies our historic transition, in various stages during the 20th century, from small town to urban development.