From The Ravinia Neighbors Association
Who was John VanBergen? The Highland Park Historical Society answers that question this month in their October celebration of this little known architect of the Prairie school. As it turns out, John VanBergen was a prolific architect in Ravinia and the surrounding Highland Park area, designing various smaller homes and schools such as Ravinia (addition) and Braeside. Those interested in "taking the tour" should visit the HPHS website at hphistory.net The following brief glimpse of the local architect was written by Jean Sogin, Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission and Board member of the HP Historical Society.
John Van Bergen 1885-1969
Article By: Jean Sogin
The Prairie School is usually thought to have ended before World War 1. Not true. John Van Bergen continued to design in the Prairie style throughout the 1920s and well into the '30s, and he did some of his best work in Highland Park.
His house and studio, which he built at 234 Cedar Street (sometimes known as Cedar Avenue) in 1920, is a fine example of his approach to the Prairie Style. Van Bergen and the landscape architect Jens Jensen were neighbors. The older Jensen became a mentor to Van Bergen and they collaborated on several projects. Van Bergen was inspired by Jensen's love of the area's indigenous prairie setting, and he created buildings that were harmonious with their natural surroundings.
Van Bergen designed Braeside School, one of the few Prairie-designed schools ever built, in 1927, and two additions in the next ten years. He regarded it as his masterwork.
Unlike many important architects, Van Bergen is not known for designing mansions or tall buildings. Instead his best works are schools and a series of modestly sized, single-family homes. His work shows that brilliant, innovative design can accompany affordability and livability.
His excellent sense of proportion and use of stratified stonework resulted in structures which are so visually striking that they are often mistaken for the work of better-known Prairie Style architects. The importance of Van Bergen's work is just beginning to be appreciated, and Highland Park is fortunate to have so many good examples of his mature style. To see some of the houses he designed in Highland Park go to hphistory.net.
Prairie Style Details at Braeside School
- Van Bergen used the four quarry tiles like a signature – it appears in almost every one of his buildings.
- Fireplaces – how many fireplaces are there in Braeside school? Are fireplaces typical in a school? Why would Van Bergen have thought they were important?
- The wide roof overhang.
- Corner windows – fills the room with light
- Combinations of materials
- Connection to the outdoors
- Taking advantage of ravine views & setting.