Edward Benson (1868-1939) Edgewater Architect

Vol. XXI No. 3 - Winter 2010

By: Morry Matson

This is the fourth in a series of articles about architects who designed buildings in Edgewater. The first was J.E.O. Pridmore (Vol. IV, No. 3, Fall/Winter 1992); the second was Julius H. Huber (Vol. XIV, No. 3, Summer 2003); and the third was Edmund R. Krause (Vol. XVI, No. 3, Fall 2005).

Editor’s note: After this article was published, it was discovered that there were two Edward Bensons who were architects, one who worked primarily in Chicago’s suburbs and one who worked primarily in Chicago. Unfortunately, the personal information that appeared in the published article referenced the suburban Benson, the one who had the middle initial “W.” We have revised this article to reference the biographical information for the Chicago Edward Benson, who used no middle initial.

According to Earnest W. Olson’s, The Swedish Element in Illinois, ;published in 1917, Edward Benson “was born March 25, 1859, in the parish of Kallerstad, Jonkopings Jan, Sweden. His parents Bengt & Chritiana Nelson were farmers. Having completed the grammar school course in his native state in 1873, he became a student of the Technical School of Stockholm between 1879 and 1881. The two following years he spent in an achitectural institute in Stockholm and thereafter took a course in a business college, 1883-84. During these years he supported himself with manual labor, beginning as a carpenter’s apprentice in 1874. In the summertime he was engaged with outdoor work on buildings and in the winter he worked as a cabinet maker.

After the completion of his courses of study he found employment as a draftsman and between 1884 and 1888 he was placed in charge of the construction of five and six story apartment buildings, as well as various school buildings in the capital of Sweden. The last year mentioned he came to the United States and went directly to Chicago. Here he found work as a carpenter and later as a bricklayer. After two or three years of practical work he had the occasion to draw his first plans for a Chicago building on the south side.”

In 1885 while he was still living in Sweden he married Miss Ida Louise Flodin of Jonkoping. They had seven children together of which only four lived to adulthood, Lilly, Arthur E, Roy E., and Naomi. His son Arthur became an architect and joined his father’s firm which was then renamed Edward Benson & Son. His son Roy became an architectural draftsman and then went on to work for another firm.

As an architect, Edward Benson was prolific in his trade. He easily erected over one thousand commercial buildings and private residences throughout his entire 40 year career in the Chicagoland area from the late 1890s to 1931, mainly in the North Side neighborhoods of Edgewater (Magnolia Glen, Edgewater Glen and Andersonville), Uptown and Lake View.

Edward Benson had several office locations in Chicago’s North Side during his 40 year career. His last office was located in the Clark-Foster Building above what is now the North Side Federal Savings bank. Prior to that he had his offices at 5412 N. Clark.

He likewise lived at various places during his career. After living in the Swedish area around Belmont he moved to Edgewater in either 1914 or 1915 and lived at 5676 N. Ridge. The 1920 census shows him living at 5520 N. Glenwood. He rented in both places.

There once was a commercial building designed and built by Benson in 1911 at 5550-52 N. Clark Street. It was torn down to make way for the Jewel Osco supermarket at 5516 N. Clark Street. Sadly, this had been the fate of several of Benson’s creations, from Andersonville to Edgewater to Lake View. Real estate developers today apparently are unaware of this forgotten architect’s tremendous work output, superb craftsmanship, and overall important contribution of shaping the city of Chicago into the architectural standard bearer that it is today.

The unassuming storefront at 5438 N. Clark Street is one of Benson’s more modest and utilitarian creations. Another later building at 5413 N. Clark was built in 1921.

In the American Contractor magazine database of permits from 1898 through 1912, Edward Benson was credited with 731 commissions of which 174 were located in Edgewater. In 1898, he had eight commissions of which none was in Edgewater; by 1912, he had 101 commissions of which 35 were in Edgewater.

Edward Benson has the distinction of designing buildings for a member of the fabled Kransz family, who were prominent in the business and social society of Edgewater from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. Henry P. Kransz (1863-1947), son of Nicholas Kransz (1816-1896), commissioned Benson to design and erect a building for him at 5870-72 N. Ridge Avenue in 1909. His brother, Nicholas Kransz, Jr. (1851-1909), died that same year. Even more coincidentally, the Henry P. Kransz building was constructed on the same block where his brother Peter P. Kransz (1857-1945), resided at 5896 N. Ridge (demolished in 1958). The properties of the two brothers were buffered by the property of Alois Kransz, son of Peter P. Kransz, at 5888 N. Ridge Avenue (demolished in 1964).

It is possible that Mr. Benson and Mr. Kransz became acquainted through mutual public school functions, as both men were members of their local school boards at the time. They were more than likely members of the same popular social organizations of the day, and perhaps Mr. Benson made an obligatory appearance at the funeral of Nicholas Kransz, Jr. in 1909. Whatever the occasion, the chance meeting of the two men proved to be quite lucrative for Edward Benson. The Henry P. Kransz & Co. commissioned no less than 33 projects from Mr. Benson, of which 25 were constructed on the 1400 and 1500 blocks of Norwood Street alone between the years 1909 and 1911.

Edward Benson’s architectural style runs the gamut of the designs popular during the early twentieth century from Chicago Craftsman to American Four-square to Italian Renaissance Revival. Several of his homes have been featured on previous home and garden tours by the Edgewater Historical Society.

Mr. Benson retired to Clearwater Florida before the census of 1930 and died there in 1933. His widow Ida returned to Chicago where she was still living according to the 1940 census.

Is your residence or business a creation of the architect Edward Benson? As this goes to press we are planning a link on the Edgewater Historical Society web site so visitors can inspect a list of hundreds of buildings designed and erected by this and other important Chicago architects in the Edgewater neighborhood.


History of the Swedes of Illinois - 1908, on-line research

Earnest W. Olson, The Swedish Element in Illinois, Swedish-American Biographical Association, 1917

Chicago building permit index, American Contractor, 1898-1912, Chicago History Museum, on-line research

City of Chicago official website, list of prominent Chicago architects

1930 U.S. Census, National Archives, on-line research

Chicago Tribune, 10/23/1939 obituaries, microfilm

City of Chicago Telephone Directory (1926-1931), microfilm