A Near-Castle With a Storied History Hits the Market in Lake Forest
The tale goes that Marshall Field stripped interior finishes from an English manor to build this $3.1 million stunner.
Published Feb. 7, 2019, at 5:56 p.m.
Text by AJ LaTrace
A Lake Forest mansion with ties to some of Chicago’s most prominent businessmen is for sale for the first time in decades. Built in the heart of the roaring twenties, when Chicago’s wealthiest residents retreated to private estates in far-flung suburbs, the home at 730 South Ridge Road resembles the dwellings of English nobility — and that’s no coincidence.
Formally named Whitehall, the estate was commissioned by Arthur Reynolds, then the president of the Continental Illinois Bank. In true Gatsby fashion, he sought to construct the palatial 11,000-square-footer on a 27-acre plot.
The home was built in the early to mid-’20s at a reported cost of $600,000 (nearly $9 million today), according to a 1932 Chicago Tribune story provided by the History Center Lake Forest-Lake Bluff. The same article attributes the home’s design to Chester H. Wolcott, the architect behind Lake Forest Academy, St. Chrysostom’s Church in the Gold Coast, and the McGaw YMCA in Evanston.
The home’s owner, Jan Serafine, who along with her sister inherited it from their mother in 2015, says 730 South Ridge also has ties to prominent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and legendary merchant Marshall Field.
As the story goes, Burnham and Field sat with Reynolds on the board of the Continental Illinois Bank. Reynolds, seeking a new headquarters for the bank, held a design contest, which Burnham won, according to Serafine. Around the same time, Field had reportedly heard of a castle in Shrewsbury, England, called Whitehall, that was being sold.
Serafine says Field traveled overseas to examine the estate, and came back with a shipment of its interior finishes — stone, plaster, wood — to be used in both the bank and Reynolds’s personal residence.
Though Burnham died in 1912, the spiritual successor to his firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, finished the bank. Serafine says the firm also had a hand in designing Reynold’s home, which Chicago could not independently confirm.
“We went to Shrewsbury to see the castle,” she says of a childhood trip to England. “Charles Darwin, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles I, James I, and many others stayed [there].”
Built by Sir Richard Prince (sometimes spelled Prynce), a British nobleman, the castle in Shrewsbury had been passed on through generations until its sale, Serafine says. It was then repurposed for government offices, and later luxury apartments.
But much of Whitehall’s original finishes live on in the former Continental Bank on LaSalle Street and in the Lake Forest estate, Serafine says.
“I’m an Anglophile, and this home is very reminiscent of the manor houses out there,” says Jean Anderson, one of the home’s two listing agents. “The owners have kept it true to form, preserving the gardens and interiors.”
The agents also say the estate’s landscape architect was Ellen Biddle Shipman, a designer noted for breaking into a male-dominated industry when few women held lead roles in architecture.
Today, the estate spans six acres; Serafine’s father subdivided and sold off the other 21. And while updates to the wiring, heating, and kitchen have been made, much of the original home has been preserved.
“You can tell the details are from a castle built in the 1500s,” says Ann Lyon, the home’s other listing agent. “The mantle is hand-carved and almost has a three-dimensional force where it feels like you could hold every element.”
Serafine, whose family is only the third to own the property, says it’s time to pass Whitehall onto somebody new. And though it’s an understatement to call the place grand, she says its floor plan and spaces are perfectly suited to today’s families.