House tour offers insight to historic Elgin architect

  • 54-56 N. Liberty St.: This unusual Prairie Style duplex was designed by David E. Postle who lived in the north-side unit. Emblematic of its 1903 vintage, the building features touches of late Victorian Era elegance co-mingled with details favored by the young architects who would define the 20th century newest trend in architecture.

    54-56 N. Liberty St.: This unusual Prairie Style duplex was designed by David E. Postle who lived in the north-side unit. Emblematic of its 1903 vintage, the building features touches of late Victorian Era elegance co-mingled with details favored by the young architects who would define the 20th century newest trend in architecture. Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

  • Elgin Public Museum: Designed by David E. Postle and partially completed in 1908, the building's east wing was eventually added and opened in 2000. The Natural History and Anthropology Museum has been an attraction in Lords Park for decades.

    Elgin Public Museum: Designed by David E. Postle and partially completed in 1908, the building's east wing was eventually added and opened in 2000. The Natural History and Anthropology Museum has been an attraction in Lords Park for decades. Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

 
By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted9/5/2019 7:30 AM

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.

364 Division St.: The first floor of the O'Connor-Leetz Funeral Home is the tour's registrations site and offers visitors a glimpse at the splendor of this former mansion. Built in 1887, with elements from the Romanesque Style, the building is in the heart of the Historic District. It was partially converted into a funeral parlor in 1937. The current owners have been restoring the building since purchasing it 1984.
364 Division St.: The first floor of the O'Connor-Leetz Funeral Home is the tour's registrations site and offers visitors a glimpse at the splendor of this former mansion. Built in 1887, with elements from the Romanesque Style, the building is in the heart of the Historic District. It was partially converted into a funeral parlor in 1937. The current owners have been restoring the building since purchasing it 1984. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

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.

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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.

433 Division St.: This 1883 home got a fresh start in 2010 when an 18-month-long rehab began. The exterior's richly detailed facade has been exuberantly displayed with a new color scheme. The interior was almost completely rebuilt with an enlarged kitchen, new baths, a re-imagined room arrangement plus much more.
433 Division St.: This 1883 home got a fresh start in 2010 when an 18-month-long rehab began. The exterior's richly detailed facade has been exuberantly displayed with a new color scheme. The interior was almost completely rebuilt with an enlarged kitchen, new baths, a re-imagined room arrangement plus much more. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

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.

439 Division St.: Constructed in 1890, this home retains a nearly original appearance. The current color palette highlights the exterior architectural details in a subtle fashion on the front facade but boldly so on the elaborate bay window located on the home's west side. The curved screened-in porch adds an unusual architectural detail.
439 Division St.: Constructed in 1890, this home retains a nearly original appearance. The current color palette highlights the exterior architectural details in a subtle fashion on the front facade but boldly so on the elaborate bay window located on the home's west side. The curved screened-in porch adds an unusual architectural detail. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

"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."

582 Park St.: Designed by David Postle and built in 1901, this house is a prominent street corner landmark. Beginning in 1991 and continuing until today, passersby have watched a series of owners tackle restoration of this house, including rebuilding its grand front porch.
582 Park St.: Designed by David Postle and built in 1901, this house is a prominent street corner landmark. Beginning in 1991 and continuing until today, passersby have watched a series of owners tackle restoration of this house, including rebuilding its grand front porch. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

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.

78 Tefft Ave.: This 1953 Cape Cod-style house features a one-story addition that originally was designed as a den, but now is used as an art studio. The home is in cottage-like setting surrounded by a white picket fence.
78 Tefft Ave.: This 1953 Cape Cod-style house features a one-story addition that originally was designed as a den, but now is used as an art studio. The home is in cottage-like setting surrounded by a white picket fence. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

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.

653 Park St.: The skillful design and workmanship make this home an excellent example of a Craftsman-style bungalow. Built in 1926, when the style was at its pinnacle of popularity and refinement, the house retains almost all its original details.
653 Park St.: The skillful design and workmanship make this home an excellent example of a Craftsman-style bungalow. Built in 1926, when the style was at its pinnacle of popularity and refinement, the house retains almost all its original details. - Courtesy of Historic Elgin House Tour

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.

• • •

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.

Info: www.historicelginhousetour.com

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