Market Square.... Lake Forest, Illinois.
There are few central business districts in the country that so well define a community’s personality and charm. Market Square was the result of the Lake Forest Improvement Plan designed to remodel Lake Forest’s business district in 1916. “A pioneer shopping center, planned and executed with an eye to beauty and usefulness, the first integrated and artfully designed shopping center in this country,” wrote Edward Arpee in his book
Lake Forest Illinois: History and Reminiscences 1861-1961.
“The stores which previously occupied the area were an eyesore, and the back lots had created slum conditions.” Yale graduate and well-known architect Howard Van Doren Shaw designed Market Square with “rows or arcades in the eastern corners,” Arpee wrote. “Two Tyrolean towers and an Italian Renaissance central building, across the west side, were all coordinated in cultivated taste and enduring beauty, making it one of the most attractive business centers in the country.”
He might have added “also one of the most expensive.” The cost back then, nearly 90 years ago, was $750,000. The building area constructed included 25 stores, 12 offices and 28 apartments in a 400 by 250 foot setting on Western Avenue.
“Soon after Market Square was completed, it began to have an influence on the rest of the business district,” wrote local historian Susan Dart in her book Market Square. “Within a year a number of other buildings of good design were erected nearby, and by 1927 Stanley Anderson (a former draftsman in Shaw’s office) had completed his plans for the half block of buildings on the north side of Deerpath east of Bank Lane.”
“In 1932 the present post office was built on the vacant lot northwest of the Square,” continued
Dart. “The new art deco building was designed by Ralph Milman, who - like Anderson - had been employed by Shaw as a draftsman. Milman’s post office blends in so perfectly that Lake Foresters have come to think of it as part of Market Square.”
Market Square was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as “America’s first planned shopping center.” Perhaps its real significance is that it is “emblematic of Lake Forest. It is the first and last view of the community from the train; its fine architecture makes people feel gratified, visually and emotionally.”
After being purchased by Broadacre Management in 1985, the buildings of Market Square were extensively restored over the next several years to their original colors and design.
The central park space - now owned by the City of Lake Forest - faced a variety of age-related problems, both underground and at street level. Sewer and electrical lines needed updating. Above ground, the loss of many of the stately elms that originally outlined the central park and poor drainage made it difficult to grow the lawn and surrounding underplantings. The signature fountain needed repair.
Realizing that the scope of the project would exceed the existing public moneys budgeted, the City turned to the Lake Forest Garden Club to form a consortium of concerned citizens known as Market Square 2000. This group took up the task of designing the Square’s renovation, and the fundraising necessary for the $1.5 million project.
Their work was completed in 2000, and there is no doubt that Lake Forest’s Market Square is now even more beautiful, functional, and capable of continuing its unique tradition into the coming century.
Excerpts taken from Edward Arpee’s “Lake Forest Illinois: History and Reminiscences 1861-1961,”