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Edward Herbert Bennett (1874-1954) was born in southwestern England the son of a clipper ship’s master and was educated in Bristol schools before coming to the U.S. in 1890, to California where after trying ranching he found employment in architectural offices. There he came to the attention of notable architect Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957), who arranged for him to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, funded by Phoebe Hearst (1842-1919; Phoebe Hearst Architectural Plan for the University of California), ca. 1898-1902. Another protégé of Maybeck’s and Hearst’s, and friend of Bennett’s was Arthur Brown, Jr. (1874-1957), who also graduated from the Ecole, in 1901 and returned to California to practice. A notable work of Brown’s is Stanford’s iconic Hoover Tower (1941). Brown also worked with Bennett on the Federal Triangle, Washington, DC. Bennett, like Brown, received his Ecole diplome, a relatively unusual achievement for students from the U.S.
Bennett took two major Mediterranean trips focused on architecture, one ca. 1900-01 and another in 1910. For the first there is a small group of photos recording this trip with at least one Ecole friend. For the second, to Egypt with his sister Helen, there is both a larger photo album collection and a travel diary.
After a brief stint in the offices of architect George B. Post (1837-1913) in New York, Ecole friend and Chicago Burnham design partner W. Peirce Anderson (1870-1924) recommended him to Daniel Burnham to assist on a West Point competition plan. Though not successful in winning the contract there, Burnham took him on to work on a plan of San Francisco, 1905. By 1905-06, though, Burnham was urging Bennett to leave his adopted home state of California and promotion of that Plan to return to Chicago to take up work by 1906-07 on a plan for Chicago, published in 1909, the Plan of Chicago. On the Plan Bennett worked closely with French artists and Ecole comrades Jules Guerin and Fernand Janin (1880-1912), the latter the artist of a portrait of Bennett as a student; another American Ecole (Paris) five-year alum Carl F. Gould (1873-1939); Plan editor Charles Moore (also later Burnham’s biographer, 1921), and Plan chair Charles Dyer Norton, also a Lake Forest College neighbor (550 E. Deerpath) and College trustee (1903-11) responsible for the 1906 campus plan.
Bennett started his own national practice, after 1910. Early work included a Portland (Oregon) plan and a lakefront plan for Lake Forest (Illinois), 1911. Bennett served as consulting architect for the Chicago Plan Commission, 1913-30. He designed the 1920 Michigan Avenue bridge (conceived as two levels during the 1907-09 process), Grant Park and the 1920s Buckingham Fountain, thus fulfilling some of the 1909 Plan’s projected key features. From 1927 to 1937 he led work on the Washington, DC, Plan, and in particular the Federal Triangle. From the late 1920s through the early 1930s he played a leading role in the 1933-34 Century of Progress exposition in Chicago, responsible for the design of several buildings in the new French version of International style, Art Deco, and reflecting the influence of Le Courbusier in this country then.
Bennett led partnerships after practicing on his own: Bennett and Parsons, 1919-22; Bennett Frost and Thomas, 1922-24; and Bennett Parsons and Frost, 1924-38. Through the 1920s the City of Lake Forest outsourced its planning work to local resident Bennett’s firm, with its first zoning ordinance, 1923, and creation of a Plan Commission in 1929; Bennett served as the inaugural Lake Forest Plan Commission’s first chair with a five-year term (records, AIC Burnham Library). He closed his practice in 1944.
Bennett had arrived in Lake Forest in 1906, attending events, etc. at Onwentsia, joined the club and was a summer resident in 1907, and married Catherine Jones in 1912, daughter of capitalist and Lake Forest University/College board of trustees president David B. Jones, 1903-04 (trustee 1896-1915; secretary 1896-98). The couple built their home Bagatelle on the southwest corner of Deerpath and Green Bay Road, 1915-16, to Bennett’s designs, including garden planting plans. This was a corner of David B. Jones’ estate and near his home, Pembroke Lodge (1895, Henry Ives Cobb). In the same period Bennett designed the landscape and gardens of Jones’ villa Pepper Hill (1916, David Adler) at Montecito, Santa Barbara, CA. In 1930 he also built for himself in his garden a new brick studio, in the International Style he employed in his Century of Progress work.
Catherine Jones Bennett died in the 1925 and he remarried, Olive Holden Mead. The Bennett family beginning in the 1930s enjoyed a farm in present-day Mettawa, west of Lake Forest and Ghost Ranch, in the southwest, where Edward H. Bennett designed an adobe home. In his last decade he built a retirement home in Tryon, North Carolina (Paul Schwieckher [1903-1997], ca. 1948-49; landscape by Bennett), and he pursued his work with watercolors, which he had employed as a student and on the 1909 Plan.
Edward and Catherine Bennett had one son, Edward H. Bennett, Jr., a Harvard-educated architect and planner, the founding president in 1976 of the Lake Forest Foundation for Historic Preservation. For his Harvard thesis EHB, Jr. designed and International Style union railroad terminal for west of the Chicago River, in the mode of the 1960 Naess & Murphy O’Hare Field air terminal. Among EHB, Jr.’s residential designs is a 1957 International Style house for George and Rosemary D. Hale, 270 Butler Dr., Lake Forest, in the mode of the Lemke house (1932) by Mies van der Rohe and 1940s and 1950s houses by Philip Johnson (Lemke house photos and Johnson material in Schulze collection; Hale house plans in the library’s Hale collection).
Edward H. Bennett, Jr.’s one son and also only child, Edward H. Bennett III, is a Lake Forest College alumnus, Class of 1971; he was president of the Lake Forest Foundation for Historic Preservation, 1999-2001. Edward H. Bennett III’s older son, Christopher E. Bennett, also is an alumnus, Class of 1992, and he resides in Chicago. Mr. Bennett’s younger son, Timothy R. Bennett, AIA, ALA, carries on the family architectural tradition and resides in Highland Park.
In 1953, in the year prior to his 1954 passing, Edward H. Bennett donated a large collection of his papers, largely professional materials, to the Burnham Library, Art Institute of Chicago. The remaining papers, photos, etc. stayed in EHB Jr.’s house (the former Jones stable block) on the 1895 Jones compound to 2004, when they were transferred to EHB III’s house further west on Deerpath in Lake Forest. Much of this family archive relating to EHB’s work on the 1909 Plan of Chicago and subsequent planning career made up the body of this 2008 donation.