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).

Edward W. Benson, architect and general contractor, was born in Upland, Sweden, in 1868. His family came to the United States two years later and settled in River Forest, Illinois. He studied architecture in Chicago and moved out west to Denver, Colorado in 1888, where he gained his first experience as a general contractor. The young architect returned to Chicago the following year and resided in Melrose Park.

Mr. Benson became a prominent citizen in the village’s social and religious life. He served on the board of village trustees for five years prior to his election as president of that board and was also a member of the school board for three years. Mr. Benson was elected to three terms as the president of Melrose Park. He was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Epworth League and Royal Circle social organizations.

As an architect, Edward W. 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. He also designed and constructed private residences in Beverly, Forest Park and Wilmette, Illinois.

Mr. Benson and his wife Alice (1886-1950) had three children – Edward, Jr., George and Ida. He designed and built a house for each of his children. The one he built for his son George, who is listed as its original owner, still stands at 5043 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. His eldest son, Edward, Jr., was a soldier in the U.S. Army during World War I. After the cessation of the war, the Swedish architect made his son a junior partner in the family business until Mr. Benson’s retirement in 1931. Edward, Jr. died in Long Island, New York in 1937, preceding his father in death by two years.

Edward W. 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.

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 W. 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 W. 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 W. 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 died in his Melrose Park home on October 22, 1939 at the age of 71. He is buried with his wife in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Is your residence or business a creation of the architect Edward W. 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.

SOURCES OF REFERENCE

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

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

Oak Ridge Cemetery, office records, Hillside, IL

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

Edgewater Historical Society Museum