Architect Homes: Edward Dart
This month marked the anniversary of Edward “Ned” Dart’s birth, who was born in New Orleans exactly 100 years ago on May 28, 1922. Dart is best known for Chicago’s Water Tower Place as well as his simple yet geometric church and residential designs. How did this modernist architect end up in the Chicagoland area?
In May of 1949, after his graduation from the Yale School of Architecture, Dart took up a meeting with one of his former teachers, Paul Schweikher. Staying in Lake Forest with his older sister Susan, who was married to the grandson of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, they made the drive to what was then unincorporated Roselle for the interview. He was offered a job as an apprentice on the spot. Driving back to Lake Forest, Dart made his sister take a detour past various Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes located along the North Shore, including the William Glasner House where he received a personal tour by the then owners. Soon after Dart made a pilgrimage to Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin where the famed architect “shook his hand in dismissive silence.” Even after that frosty meeting, Dart still considered Wright as an important influence, but his design philosophy was mainly shaped by Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, and especially his new boss Paul Schweikher. Architect and interior designer George A. Larson speculated that “Dart was attracted to Schweikher’s work, which combined the minimalism of the International Style with a thoroughly Midwestern feel for modest materials like unpainted wood and brick.”
While Dart lived for a short time at Schweiker’s Home & Studio, which is now a house museum, he eventually found an apartment for himself and his wife Wilhelmina in nearby Itasca. She had been engaged to his best friend William “Bill” Senhauser, a Marine Corps Aviator who was killed in a tragic accident during WWII. Dart returned Bill's personal affects to Wilma, which started a two year correspondence and courtship while Ned finished his tour of duty. It was after the war that Dart seriously considered a career in architecture. Wilma had graduated from Duke University and was pursuing a Master in Social Work at Columbia during this time. The young educated couple were ready to begin a new life together in Chicagoland.
After Dart’s brief stay at Schweikher’s seven-acre property, Ned and Wilma began looking for a place they could afford, first living in a historic log cabin on Old Plum Grove Road in Palatine before moving into a small farm cottage on the grounds that belonged to Dr. Melvin Thompson, a dentist based in Barrington. The Darts would call this northwest suburb home for the rest of their lives.
As an independent architect Dart worked in an upstairs room of a building across from Barrington’s train station. As his practice grew with more commissions, the architect was finally able to afford real office space as well as his own home by 1951. Located in a prominent building at the corner of Cook and Station in downtown Barrington, Dart’s architectural firm was a short drive from what would be the first of three residences he designed and built for his family. Located on a thirteen acre site off Spring Creek Road (now Braeburn Lane) in what is today Barrington Hills (officially incorporated six years after their home was constructed), Dart created a small flat-roofed residential design that owed a lot to Schweikher’s own home with its use of natural redwood, walls of glass, informal floor plan, and abstract geometry inside and out. It even had a Chicago Common brick fireplace. Rieke Construction Company built it on the highest point of the site facing west with all the major rooms of the house opening into each other. The spaces were enlarged functionally and visually with screened porches, overhangs, and decks. There was even an interior sandbox to be used by their children Elaine and Philip.
As Dart’s independent career continued to grow, he would open his first office in Chicago at 201 North Wells St in 1954. Five years later, Dart’s firm needed more space and moved into the Material Services Building at 130 North Franklin St but only for a short time. In 1961 Dart wanted more pleasant surroundings so the architect moved his office into an old house at 21 East Superior St. Dart stayed there until he joined the prominent Chicago architectural firm of Loebl, Schlossman, and Bennett as a partner in 1965. Many people believe the stress of acting as the main person in charge of one of the city’s largest firms (Schlossman and Bennett “took a back seat” in the 1970s) and working on the major commercial development of Water Tower Place sadly factored into his early death just a decade later at the age of 53. But what about Dart’s other dwellings?
While Dart’s first residence was featured in the December 1955 issue of Progressive Architecture, he was already designing and building another home for his family at 239 Oak Knoll Rd in the Barrington area. In 1956 they moved into a concrete and glass split-level flat-roofed house with a prominent stone chimney. A curved staircase matched perfectly with the curving built-in furniture. The design was published in both House and Garden and Architectural Record. The Darts later sold it to the Palumbo family. When the house hit the market after Esther Palumbo’s death in 2020, there were fears it would be torn down, especially because the home is located on a hilly five-acre property with a pond. Esther’s son John, who lives in another Dart-designed residence next door, said “It was our intent that the house would stay intact.” And that’s exactly what happened when Ann Olenik and Kamran Foruhar purchased the home in July 2021, who intend to respect Dart’s original design and layout but will update the kitchen and various utilities. What a great preservation win!
In 1964 staying in the Barrington Hills area Dart purchased ten acres and built a multi-level house of Chicago Common brick on the foundations of an old barn overlooking Keene Lake right off Dundee Lane. After decades of working as an architect, Dart achieved a design that incorporated everything important to his design philosophy, specifically site; natural and local materials; and use of space. With its pitched roof, the home rises out of the knoll but is still anchored to the ground. Inside the home wood beams and posts intersect across the large and open living space of Chicago Common brick. Dart’s architectural partner John Schlossman said of his third home: “The only client he had to please was himself and his unique attitude toward interlocking, open spaces and materials which Ed would say ‘bore the imprint of man’ was in great evidence.” Wilma Dart continued to live here until she sold it in July of 2006 for $1.4 million.
Surprisingly all three of Dart’s homes survive in some form or another with the last design probably the most butchered of all as its new owners Thomas and Joanne Mitchell tacked on a Tuscan McMansion addition with a garish stone turret. The joke was on them as they sold it for $825,000 in December 2019 (far less than what they had paid for the original Dart home, let alone the construction costs of the addition).
Even with her husband’s unexpected death in 1975, Wilma Dart continued to reside in her adopted hometown of Barrington until 2006 when she moved to Florida. She lived a long life, devoted to gardening and her dog during her last years and died at the age of 97 in 2018. The couple are both interred in the columbarium at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which just so happened to be first of many church commission for Ned Dart.
Crain’s Chicago Business
Edward Dart: Preserving the Works of a Mid-Century Architect by Matthew Seymour
Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929-1975 by Susan S. Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino
Progessive Architecture, December 1955