By Patti Waldmeir
Only steps away from a sandy beach and miles of hiking and biking paths; tennis courts and a sailboat launch at the end of the street; boutique cafés within walking distance and an organic grocery just around the corner. And some of the best Chinese food outside China. Sounds like California, right? Wrong. I am describing my home neighbourhood of Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Evanston, 13 miles north of Chicago’s central business district, known as the Loop, is close enough to the city to commute with ease: at rush hour, workers enjoy an express service on the city’s famed elevated railway, the “L”, as well as double-decker commuter trains. But Evanston is far enough away — the journey takes about 45 minutes — to feel like a cross between a small town and a resort village. Its population is 75,000.
Every morning in summer — and sometimes in the days of weary winter — I stumble down to the beach to admire the dawn light show as the sun rises over Lake Michigan, part of the Great Lakes, the world’s second largest freshwater body of water. Lake Michigan is so vast it is like an ocean — minus the salt.
I chose to move to Evanston in 2016 because of its excellent state schools, not knowing that children grow up and I would need to love it for other reasons soon enough. Now I am an empty nester, with plenty of time to walk the streets admiring the town’s distinctive architecture. The house currently for sale at 1315 Forest Avenue, listed for $1.35m, is exactly the home I would love to live in, if I still had kids to fill it with.
With six bedrooms, four bathrooms, and two sets of stairs (one for the servants, presumably, when it was built in 1908), it is hardly unique among Evanston lakefront properties, which tend to be grand and cavernous. Even the porte cochere — read: pretentious covered entrance for coaches to pass through — is not unusual in this part of town. But what won me over about 1315 Forest is its Prairie style architecture, which is so Chicago.
Distinctly American, the Prairie school was the invention of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The style emerged around the turn of the 20th century — Evanston’s heyday. Prairie-style homes are dotted all over the lakefront area of town. Mostly built of pale brick, with their wide windows and squat shape they seem rooted in the Evanston soil in a way that none of their Victorian or mock Tudor neighbours can aspire to. The original leaded glass Prairie school doors and windows at 1315 Forest filter a light which seems to have a lakeside quality all its own.
Turn left out the front door, and you are at the beach in under two minutes. Go right and the predictable staples of affluent life are near to hand: sushi, lattes and deep dish pizza. Try Bagel Art at 615 West Dempster or Cuptiol Coffee & Eatery at 812 Grove for breakfast. For top-class takeaway go to Sea Ranch Sushi at 518 Dempster.
The L train’s Dempster Street station is just eight minutes away in one direction, and the Dempster Street Launch Facility is five minutes the other way, offering recreational sailboat trips.
Patti Waldmeir is the FT's North America correspondent
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Photographs: Alamy; Dreamstime; Jim Tschetter; Getty Images