Friday, August 4, 2017

Fair Lawn – A Respite for One of Chicago’s Key City Planners

by Pamela S. Meyers

Charles H. Wacker
The next stop on our tour of the mansions of Geneva Lake from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century is a lovely Dutch Colonial that was built by Charles H. Wacker.  If you have spent any time in the Chicago loop, you have probably heard of Wacker Drive. Wacker was a member, and later chairman, of the Chicago Plan Commission which had a hand in making Chicago emerge into the well-organized and centralized city that it is today.

Before becoming involved on the Plan Commission, Wacker and his father established the malting firm, F. Wacker and Sons, which later became Wacker and Birk Brewing Company. Just as busy Chicagoans today who work hard all week seek respite at nearby Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on the weekends, Wacker was no different back in the early 1890s when he purchased a large property on the south shore of Geneva lake. 

Fair Lawn as it Looked When First Built
He commissioned Jens Jensen to design a beautiful landscape to complement the home he was planning to build. A stickler for details, he bragged at one time that he had inspected every single board before it was used to construct the home that included Tuscan columns made of cypress wood, a wraparound porch and a central spiral staircase that was topped with a Tiffany dome.

Wacker died at Fair Lawn a few days after the stock market crash in 1929.

The home stayed in the Wacker family until it was sold in 1975 to the next-door neighbors, Chicago television personality, Lee Phillip, and her husband, Bill Bell, one of the creators and producers of the soap opera, The Young and the Restless. They did not want to tear down the antique building, which was the popular choice of many who purchased the old mansions back then. Instead, they used the home as a guest house. They only owned the home for five years before they sold it to Chicago attorney Robert Cooney who assured them they would restore the property and not tear it down. Cooney’s wife was a professional interior designer and she was able to incorporate a lot of the antiques the home still had in her designs. It is unclear of the home is still owned by the Cooney family.

Fair Lawn as It Appears Today
The home still holds a commanding presence on the shoreline and is occupied and enjoyed by the current family who lives there. You can see it for yourself by walking the public path that circles the lake at the shoreline or by taking an excursion boat ride that embarks daily from the public docks in the town of Lake Geneva. I think Charles Wacker would be very pleased to see how his home has endured and been preserved to be enjoyed many years after he passed.

Treasure at Fairlawn; Lisa Skolnik, Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2002
Charles Wacker and The Elegance of Fair Lawn, At The Lake Magazine, August 2015
Lake Geneva, Newport of the West, Ann Wolfmeyers & Betsy Gage, 1976
Photo of Fair Lawn in the past: Picturesque Photo Book of Lake Geneva, 1926
Photo of Fair Lawn today: 

 Pamela S. Meyers lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Second Chance Love, and Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (a reissue of Love Finds You in Lake Geneva). Her novellas include: What Lies Ahead, in The Bucket List Dare collection, and If These Walls Could Talk, in Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Midwestern spots for new story ideas. 


  1. Having grown up in Elgin, I remember Lake Geneva well. I also remember Lee Phillips as a Chicago personality before her soap opera days. She was so pretty. She had a lunchtime show. ( she passed on the pretty genes to her daughter!)
    I was also in an all 6th grade orchestra. I was First Violin.. The girl next to me was Linda Wacker! I remember her telling me about her relatives that were named for Wacker Drive in Chicago. I'm 68 now, so thanks for dredging up those memories. I am enjoying your bits of history of Lake Geneva. Our Church took youth groups there back in the late '60's. One of our members had a spot on the lake.

    1. Paula, having grown up in Elgin you may be interested in the Elgin Club on Geneva Lake's north shore. It was called that because two men from Elgin initially bought the property and then subdivided it and sold the parcels to others from Elgin who built summer homes on their land. My hero in Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva (formerly called Love Finds You in Lake Geneva) lives at the Elgin Club and I've sprinkled some of that history into the storyline. It's set in 1933.

  2. Walking the path to see Fair Lawn would be wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I lived at fair lawn 1976 to 1981 I miss it very much. I was just look I g at photos. Great memories do you have any pictures of the inside of the house?