Benjamin Marshall, Architect of the Original Breakers at Edgewater Beach

Chicago architect Benjamin Marshall left his mark on his hometown, designing several buildings which still exist in the Second City. Among these is the apartment building sitting next to The Breakers at Edgewater Beach, currently home to a Senior Lifestyle community.

Marshall designed the original building on that site too, the now-demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel, which hosted many famous guests.

Here’s more about Chicago architect Benjamin Marshall, his background and some of his more important buildings.

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Benjamin Marshall’s History

Marshall, born in Chicago in 1874, became a major influencer in the history of architecture in the city. According to the Benjamin Marshall Society, he “created traditionally detailed buildings that functioned within modern society, ingeniously juxtaposing conservative and modern features.”

After attending a private preparatory academy, Marshall’s formal education ended, but his interest in architecture had just begun. He was impressed by the buildings of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 near his home on Chicago’s South Side. He apprenticed himself to the architectural firm of Marble & Wilson until 1895, then upon Marble’s death, became a partner in the newly renamed Wilson & Marshall. In 1902, he established his own firm, with a vision of conserving the Chicago waterfront with urban planning. In 1905, Marshall teamed with Charles Fox, forming Marshall & Fox.

One of Marshall’s earliest commissions was the Iroquois Theater, which was destroyed in a fire five months after opening in 1903. The tragedy, one of the worst fires in American history, took 602 lives. In the wake of the accident, Marshall was haunted by the tragic event, insisting from then on that many of his buildings, hotels and apartments be constructed with poured cement. 

Marshall led an extravagant lifestyle during his heyday, hosting celebrities with lavish parties at his studio mansion in Wilmette, overlooking Lake Michigan. His guest list included film and theater stars, socialites and royalty, from Rudolph Valentino to Harry Houdini to Charlie Chaplain.

Benjamin Marshall’s Most Memorable Buildings

Marshall helped define the new urban Chicago look between his Blackstone Hotel on South Michigan Avenue and East Lake Shore Drive. He built mostly in Chicago, everything from hotels, theaters, residences and even factories. He also designed buildings from Los Angeles to New York.

Here are some of his more famous Chicago buildings.

1550 North State Parkway

This building, in a classic French design, is sometimes described as looking like a wedding cake. After designing it, Marshall moved in until he built another home for himself. 

Each of the 12 floors had one apartment of 9,000 square feet, divided into 15 rooms. Details abounded, such as providing each kitchen with three broilers, one gas range and one charcoal.

179, 199, 209 and 999 E. Lake Shore Drive

This string of buildings helped define Marshall’s approach to conserving the Chicago waterfront, turning empty space into desirable real estate, and giving it a signature look. 

The first one built was at 999, for a commercial client, followed by 199, for Marshall & Fox themselves. An 18-story co-operative apartment building was designed for 209, with two units per floor. At 179 stands the Drake Tower, home to the Drake Hotel (below) and condos placed above it.

Blackstone Hotel

Finished in 1910, the Blackstone Hotel is sometimes called the “Hotel of Presidents” for hosting politicians and celebrities in its prime. Its place in history is acknowledged on the National Register of Historic Places. 

It’s been seen in movies such as “North by Northwest,” “The Untouchables,” “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “The Color of Money.” The Blackstone Hotel is also a major plot point in the play and movie of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Blackstone Theater

The theater sits next door to the historic hotel. It was built in 1910 on the site of a former mansion. The building, constructed in a French Renaissance style, is six stories tall. 

The “Blackstone Theater Company” hosted major productions and showed movies. After a time being owned and operated by the Shubert Organization, it was acquired by DePaul University and renamed the Merle Reskin Theatre. It is now home to the Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series, and hosts other university productions.

Drake Hotel

The landmark Drake Hotel is constructed in an Italian Renaissance style. When built in 1920, it marked the dividing line between the Gold Coast upscale residential area and the commercial area of North Michigan Avenue.

The Drake became a magnet for social, political and commercial visitors. It briefly was the location of an office kept by Chicago mob boss Frank Nitti.

Edgewater Beach Hotel

The Edgewater Beach Hotel was constructed in 1916 and quickly became the hotel of choice for celebrities, politicians, sports stars and entertainers. The accompanying Edgewater Beach Apartments went up in 1926 and are still standing.

The hotel at one point had a 1,200-foot private beach and offered seaplane service to downtown Chicago. It was closed and demolished beginning in 1969. The site now hosts The Breakers at Edgewater Beach senior community.

>> Read “The Famous Guests of the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago

Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank Building

This building got its first eight stories in 1924, capping out at 12 stories by 1928. It was given Chicago Landmark status in 2018.

It passed hands among many banking tenants, from Sheridan Trust and Savings to Uptown National to Bridgeview until in 2019. Then, the building was purchased to be converted into low-income housing units. 

South Shore Country Club

Built in 1905, this building reflects a Mediterranean Revival style. Marshall & Fox added a new building in 1916, which is the building that still stands today.

In 1975, the building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It then was slowly renovated and repurposed as the South Shore Cultural Center. It now houses an art school, theater, fine arts gallery and more sites open to the public.

Steger Building

This 19-story skyscraper was commissioned in 1911 for Steger & Sons Piano Manufacturing Company as part of Chicago’s “Music Row.” It was the first high-rise designed by Marshall & Fox.

It was built in a Classical Revival style, with terracotta ornamentation. In 2013, this building was declared a Chicago landmark.

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The Breakers at Edgewater Beach offers Independent Living along the shores of stunning Lake Michigan in Chicago. As a Senior Lifestyle community, The Breakers at Edgewater Beach offers a fun, vibrant, safe living environment.

Find out more about Senior Lifestyle or schedule a tour today.

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