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The Landmarks of Barb City - Part 28

This house at 233 Augusta Ave. in DeKalb surprises most tour participants in that it was not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but by a student and co-worker, John S. Van Bergen of Oak Park. Provided photo

One of the last building sites to be taken up along Augusta Avenue was a pair of very deep lots atop the rise that became 233 Augusta. The house that has occupied the property since approximately 1916 - according to both family tradition and the city directories - was constructed as the "Residence of Andrew O. Anderson." Pictured in the January 1924 special edition of the Chronicle, it appears little different 80 years later, except for the landscaping. Brian Nigbor's 2002 publication "The Early Years of DeKalb's Ellwood Addition: 1898-1903" states that Oak Park architect Eben Ezra Roberts was commissioned to design a home at this location in 1901. The home was slated for construction during the 1902 building season but was never erected. A.W. Fisk - business manager of the Ellwood Green Percheron horse business - apparently intended moving here from a late 19th-century house in which he had long lived at 229 N. Second St. The Chronicle so hyped the project in its preliminary phase - largely because E.E. Roberts was such a well-known Prairie-style architect already, and probably the first such designer to receive a local commission - that it seems unusual that there was no follow-up about why the building failed to materialize. I thought for the longest time, for example, that Roberts was first hired in 1904 by E.J. Wiswall in regard to the house at 308 Augusta. Now, however, we know that he was on the scene as early as three years before. The lots would remain empty until 1916, when they were purchased by local clothing merchant Andrew Anderson. Anderson was a Swedish immigrant, as were his parents and his brothers, Charles (a hardware dealer) and Frank (his partner in Anderson Brothers Clothing Store). Andrew previously lived with his parents at 320 S. Seventh St. at the Glidden House Hotel as a bachelor and in homes at 233 W. Locust St. and 313 Augusta Ave. after he got married. As recounted in an earlier article, Andrew and Frank Anderson both decided in 1916 that the time was right for having stylish new homes constructed for their families. Oral tradition has preserved that the two men had a friendly wager going on to see which of them could come up with the better design. A certain type of architect was sought Like A.W. Fisk before him, Andrew Anderson chose to seek out an architect noted for Prairie-style commissions. Anderson had been impressed by just such a residence in Maywood, according to an article in an April 1974 issue of the Northern Star newspaper. The residence's architect was John S. Van Bergen of Oak Park, who came with impressive credentials. Van Bergen worked with, or studied under, Solon S. Beman (the architect of Pullman, Ill.) and E.E. Roberts - and Frank Lloyd Wright himself. Van Bergen obtained his license in 1911 and quickly gained a reputation for residential work, which initially was his area of specialization. By 1916 he had become the best "imitator" of Wright's style, according to sources. Van Bergen went on to craft such a fine-looking house for Andrew Anderson that people have long mistaken it as the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. They are flabbergasted to learn it is not. During the first decade of the 1900s, Wright was designing homes that either mixed the use of stucco and half-timbering, or employed just masonry materials, as Van Bergen did here. The structure sits low to the ground, with the location of its front door not immediately apparent, as was a common feature of Wright's own work as well. The floor plan is a T-shape, or that of a simple cross, having one complete room and part of another jutting out into the yard in good horizontal fashion, with three walls of continuous casement windows. Other such groupings are seen on both the first and second floors, but none are leaded or art-glass. One entire living room wall is dominated inside by a brick fireplace, yet another Wright trademark utilized by Van Bergen. The distinctive horizontal lines of the house are striking, especially on the front façade. The low-lying red roof is accented by wide, overhanging eaves. Van Bergen's use of yellow brick for the walls, coupled with light-colored stone and white painted trim, makes for a very attractive structure. Comparing the work of two Prairie-style designers Early Prairie-style work by Wright in the 1890s, while he was in the employ of Adler & Sullivan of Chicago, tended to be characterized by the use of cubes and blocks in residential designs - as in the James Charnley House on Chicago's Astor Street. Interestingly, such forms are found on the rear façade of the Anderson House. Why Van Bergen chose to deviate from the mature Prairie style of the front can only be guessed at today. When the Andersons put the home on the market in the mid-1920s, a Sycamore man who showed interest in buying it was the now-late Paul A. Nehring. He decided against purchasing it for two reasons. First, one bedroom had no door into the hallway, its sole means of access being through another room. Inconvenient as this might have been, however, the more important reason for looking elsewhere was that Nehring wanted a Prairie-style house only if it did indeed come from the drawing board of the master himself - Frank Lloyd Wright - and this did not fill the bill. Mr. Nehring decided, instead, on 335 College Ave., which is still in the family more than 75 years later. The current owners of 233 Augusta Ave. have occupied it for 30 years now.

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