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Downer Place West
Downer Place west of the West Side Historic District provides excellent examples of homes which demonstrate the architectural history of residential styles. They include the ornate Queen Anne style from the Victorian era, the various and disparate styles of the early 20th Century, and the Modern ranch style.
In the early 20th century the Classical, Colonial, and Romantic Revivals based on European precedents occurred simultaneously with the unique indigenous Prairie School style. The Colonial Revival homes were influenced by the rebirth of interest in the early English and Dutch houses, and include the Georgian and Adam styles. The Tudor Revival style was popular through 1940, and featured steeply pitched roofs, stucco, brick or stone walls, often with half timbering and prominent chimneys. The Prairie style was developed in the Midwest during this period, but its influence subsided in 1920. This style grew from the Arts and Crafts Movement which emphasized individuality and incorporating the indigenous features of an area into the architecture. Thus in the Midwest, the prairie was predominant and used for inspiration, including a horizontal emphasis achieved in architecture with low-pitched roofs and wide overhanging eaves. Native prairie elements were also featured as details in the building. The modern homes were greatly influenced by the principles developed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie style.
1. Cooper House, c.1909
729 W. Downer Place
The Cooper house is an excellent example of the Prairie style of architecture. The horizontal emphasis is achieved by the distinctive change of building material from brick on the first story to stucco on the second story. The flat porch roof and the band of wood trim between the floors further emphasize the horizontal lines. Screens of windows are also a Prairie technique that bring the natural outdoors inside the homes. They are seen at the corners on the second floor. Wide overhanging eaves on the hipped roof are further Prairie style elements of the house. While the architect remains unknown, oral history indicates that it was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The original owner, Henry “Harry” J. Cooper, was the vice president of the Old Second National bank.
The next four homes are part of the New West Downer Addition. In 1896, Barry & Fellows of Chicago purchased over 600 lots in the New Downer Place addition from Judge R. P. Goodwin and F.D. Winslow. They at once built six houses on the lots. According to the local paper, the purchase deal “got into the Chicago papers before the boys were quite ready to tell about it, and the secret came out”.
2. Sencenbaugh House, c.1912
1006 W. Downer Place
Georgian and Adam style influences are evident in this Colonial Revival style home. They include the prominent cornice with decorative modillions, multi-paned windows, and flat arches over the windows with decorative keystones. The entry is flanked with classical pilasters. Note the centered gable above the projecting pavilion. Charles and Stella Sencenbaugh were the originally owners. Charles was the President of S.S. Sencenbaugh and Western Wheeled Scraper.
3. Wilson House, 1927
1041 W. Downer Place
Designed by Frazier and Raferty of Chicago, this home was featured in the 1931 issue of Home & Field. It was described in the article as being “true to late Georgian type, with the roof details suggesting France”. Walter Frazier was born in Aurora in 1895 and received his degree in architecture from MIT in 1919. He later studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He is known for his work in residential architecture, and as well as planning the interiors of many homes that he designed. The original owner was I. Newton Wilson, and his wife Clio. They owned a women’s clothing manufacturing company on Fox Street (now Downer Place).
4. Jones House,1925
1115 W. Downer Place
This Tudor style home features a slate-covered, undulating roof that suggests the picturesque roofs of rural England. Its intricate brickwork, eyebrow dormer and beautiful landscaping make it reminiscent of an English country cottage. It includes an entry porch roof with Colonial Revival detailing, including the curved roof underside, fluted Doric columns, and the leaded fanlight over the entry door. The architect, Frank B. Gray designed many locally significant buildings. The original owner, Milton Jones, was a long-time executive officer in the Richards-Wilcox manufacturing Company, a major maker of doors, partitions, door hangers, door hardware, and overhead track. Milton and his wife Minnie lived in the home until the late 1940s, and their son Malcom and his family continued to live there until 1976.
5. Waters House, c.1912
1120 W. Downer Place
An excellent example of the Tudor Revival style, this home features the characteristic half-timbering and stucco on the second story. It has a hipped roof with jerkinheads at the sides. This is where the roof is halfway between a gable and a hip. Other features include the front centered gable and the second story overhang supported with heavy wooden brackets. The original owner, Frank S. Waters, was president of the Lyon Metal Products Company, the largest concern of its kind in the world when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1935. He and his brother Beverly founded the company in 1889. His wife, Mable Kilbourne Waters, continued to reside in the house until 1950.
6. Winslow House, 1894
1153 W. Downer Place
This beautiful Queen Anne style home was built in the 1880s. It features a corner tower, wrap around porch, and decorative pediment over the 2nd story porch. In 1913, a fire blazed through the third floor and the charred wood still remains there. Fay (Fayette) Winslow married Waldo Tracy, and built this home, one of the first homes in the new Downer Place addition which Mr. Winslow was instrumental in promoting. They had four children, Anna, Martha, Lawson and Knelm.
7. Goodwin House, 1894
1205 W. Downer Place
Judge Russell B. Goodwin was a judge of the city courts of Aurora and Elgin and also assistant attorney general of the United States during the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. He was a native of Aurora, acquiring his education in the West High school and in Jennings seminary after which he studied law, becoming one of the leading men of his profession. The original porch on this Queen Anne style house has been removed. It still features the corner tower with conical roof, and decorative details in the gables.
8. Mall House, 1929
1341 W. Downer Place
Another Tudor style home designed by architect Herbert Spieler. This home features decorative half-timbering and a massive wooden front door reminiscent of Medieval times. Also note the decorative limestones set in the brick surrounding the door. The original owner was Albert F. Mall, president of the Frank Mall Lumber Company.
9. Dunham House, 1949
1405 West Downer Place
John and Dorothy Dunham were the original owners of this Ranch style house, constructed in 1949 by contractor Aaron Swanson for $27,000. Dunham was the president of Aurora Equipment Company. According to Swanson’s son, the building was designed by a local architect from Geneva, William Gray. During construction of the house, Swanson stated that Gray employed two college students, Robert Mall and William Laz. They later formed the firm Gray, Laz and Mall. Swanson stated that his father enjoyed working for architects, and that they constructed the rear addition to the Greene house around 1956. Characteristic elements of the Ranch style seen on this house include the single story height, horizontal emphasis, natural finished wood in the eaves, wide overhangs, and large windows.