This is a love story: the story of a couple who fell in love with the beauty, the balance and the philosophy of a Chicago-based architect who died before either of them was born.
Their enthusiasm became the catalyst for establishing The Benjamin Marshall Society.
Jane Lepauw, who grew up in Northbrook, and her Parisian husband Didier Lepauw, became enamored with Marshall’s work in 2001 when the two realtors landed the listing of Landsdowne Estate, a nine-bedroom home designed by Marshall in 1911 on 21 acres along Lake Michigan in Lake Bluff.
As they researched the property they discovered the man behind the Georgian mansion. “His architecture was better known than he was,” Jane says, ticking off Marshall-designed buildings like the Drake and Blackstone Hotels; the Blackstone (now Merle Reskin) Theatre; South Shore Country Club; the Edgewater Beach Hotel, razed in 1967; and the apartments, which still stand.
“His home studio across from the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette is gone,” Jane says, “but in 2012 we mark the 100th anniversary of 1550 N. State Parkway, which he designed and owned.”
Born on Chicago’s South Side, Marshall was inspired to become an architect by Daniel Burnham’s White City at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
His firm, Marshall & Fox, embraced neo-classical style and its Beaux-Arts principles of beauty, balance and embellishment.
The Lepauws founded Benjamin Marshall Society in 2002. After a few small teas at the Drake, the society held its first black-tie benefit there last March. Attended by 370 guests, it raised $256,000.
“Our first goal is to create a coffee table book about Marshall,” Lepauw says. “Then we plan to give a scholarship to a student at the University of Notre Dame to research Benjamin Marshall.”
She smiles, adding, “We want the name and legacy of this wonderful Chicago architect to be as well known as his buildings. We love him and are sure when others get to know him they will, too.”