House tour offers insight to historic Elgin architect
His name is little known even to students of Elgin-area history.
But architect David E. Postle (1863-1939) designed such local landmarks as the "old Elgin High School," Lords Park Pavilion, Elgin Public Museum and David C. Cook Publishing, plus at least 28 of the homes built in the Bluff City between 1890 and 1920.
As the Gifford Park Association holds its 38th annual Historic Elgin House Tour on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-8, the tour will focus on a sampling of Postle's best work in and around Lords Park. Participants will be able to tour the pavilion, the museum and six homes, including the one Postle built for himself, one he designed for the co-owner of Ackemann's department store, and four houses designed by other architects.
Participants may tour the homes in any order on either day. At each location, docents will lead visitors through the house or building, explaining its architectural features as well as information about the home's original owners, architect and local significance.
A walking tour and lecture titled "East of the Park: The Evolution of an East Side Neighborhood" also will set off twice each day, starting at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. outside Lords Park Pavilion.
Co-chairwoman Jennifer Fukala said the tour's planners -- a committee of officials from the GPA, the city's other neighborhood groups, Elgin Heritage Commission and Downtown Neighborhood Association -- pick a different neighborhood each year.
The first 37 tours have featured more than 240 homes and 40 public, commercial and religious buildings. But this is the first time the tour has come to the areas east and west of Lords Park.
Last year, some 250 volunteers worked with 1,500 tour-takers. Fukala said registration forms show that participants came from Wisconsin, Indiana, and "all over the greater Chicago area."
Postle's life and work were researched by tour co-chair man Mike Zimmer, an Elgin native who is himself a 24-year-old recent graduate of the University of Illinois Chicago's architecture education program.
"Postle designed the old Elgin High School and Lords Park Pavilion and the Public Museum and the Cook publishing house and additions to the watch factory. But he was also the high-end residential architect of the 1890s and early 1900s," Zimmer said.
Born on an Ohio farm in 1863, Postle moved to Illinois to train as an architect at the University of Illinois. He planned to join his older brother Oliver, who already was working as an architect in Chicago.
"In 1892, David received his first commission in Elgin, the big house with a tower at Chicago and Liberty streets," Zimmer said. "He built that for George Richardson, who was superintendent of David C. Cook Publishing.
"While designing that home, Postle met Richardson's daughter, Georgia. The two were married in 1893 and lived with the Richardsons until they built a home for themselves at 54-56 N. Liberty in 1903."
One of the stops on this year's tour, the Liberty Street home was built as a duplex. The Postles lived in one side and a tenant lived in the other.
"Postle spared no expense in designing Elgin's grandest duplex home," Zimmer said. "When an architect designs a home for himself, it is often the purest expression of his personal style and it often features experimental design elements. In the years that followed, he designed four more homes around Elgin with nearly identical floor plans and slightly modified elevations."
Georgia Postle led a campaign to ban liquor in Elgin during a 1914 referendum. In Chicago, meanwhile, David designed 125 more buildings and became known for the "Chicago Courtyard Style" of apartments like Pattington Square in Old Irving Park.
Even after the Postles moved to Los Angeles in 1921 -- pursuing a new building boom there -- 54-56 N. Liberty held prominent owners.
In 1998 Elgin City Attorney William Cogley bought it and moved into one side. Then City Manager Sean Stegall bought it and lived in it. Last April, the home was bought by Thomas Busse and Daniel Gonzalez.
However, not all the tour sites date back more than a century. The newest one -- at 78 Tefft Ave., several blocks on the east side of the park -- was built in Postwar Cape Cod Revival style in 1953. Zimmer said the home is typical of simple, affordable homes built to accommodate the millions of GIs starting families after World War II.
Tour Chairman Mike Haskins said that "by rotating the tour sites, the Elgin Historic House Tour has helped foster neighborhood pride and supported neighborhood groups other than the Gifford Park Association. It all contributes to creating a sense of place and pride in the city's heritage."
The GPA donates much of the tour's proceeds to other nonprofit organizations. GPA also supports youth groups, supports architectural rehabilitation, and has added historic signs to the public rights of way.
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Historic Elgin House Tour
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8
Details: Featuring six historic homes and three public buildings on Elgin's far east side. Starts at O'Connor Leetz Funeral Home, 364 Division St. Free walking tour "East of the Park: The Evolution of a Mid-Century Neighborhood" meets at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days at the fountain in front of Lords Park Pavilion. 60- to 90-minute walk with about one mile of walking as you examine the exteriors of other homes in the neighborhood.
Tickets: Tickets the day of the tour are $25 or $20 for 65 or older, $10 for 18 and under; cash or check only. Register between 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday to get tour booklet.