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Exploring Wilmette: Plaza del Lago

Plaza Del Lago, nestled on Sheridan Road in the heart of Wilmette, and a short distance from Optima VerdanaⓇ, is a historic marvel that effortlessly blends architectural elegance with commercial success. Conceived in the Roaring Twenties, this Spanish-style district was the first of its kind in the state, and it has persevered through time, maintaining its significance in the community as a hub for engagement. 

Real estate visionary Henry G. Foreman was the mastermind behind Plaza Del Lago. In 1927, Foreman and various North Shore locals embarked on creating Spanish Court, a Mediterranean-inspired commercial hub boasting luxury apartments, upscale retail stores, and an automobile service station. Chicago-based architect Edward Hill Clark drew up the plans, initially intending to build four Spanish architecture-style complexes, a style associated with affluence at the time, along Sheridan Road. 

Construction of the plaza concluded in 1928, and it promptly opened its doors to its first occupants, which included Spanish Court Pharmacy, Teatro del Lago, and Bill’s Realty. The architecture uniquely blended Spanish and Mediterranean influences with early 20th-century American design. The intricate archways, vibrant tiles, and ornate ironwork stand as a testament to the detailed craftsmanship that brought this landmark to life. 

Unfortunately, a fire in the mid-1930s affected many buildings in the area, slowing traffic. However, years later, Evanston lawyer Plato Foufas discovered that a large section of the community, including the Spanish Court, was up for sale. Upon purchasing the land, Foufas began the renovation of the famed shopping plaza in 1967, adding arcade shops, new stores, a street fountain and renaming it Plaza del Lago. 

Plaza del Lago’s original bell tower built in 1928

Over the years, Plaza Del Lago has expertly balanced vintage charm with modern utility. The original structure is carefully preserved, with several buildings retaining their initial function. The plaza’s bell tower, a feature from the original construction in 1928, remains one of its main architectural highlights today. The plaza now hosts a variety of annual events, from a summer concert series to art and car shows, along with a mixture of boutiques, gourmet food outlets and wellness studios, upholding Foreman’s vision of a bustling community hub. 

Today, Plaza Del Lago remains a timeless symbol of Wilmette’s history and enduring spirit. It enchants visitors with its architectural grandeur, vibrant retail scene, and picturesque lakeside vistas, standing proudly as a prominent fixture in Wilmette’s narrative.

Chicago History: The South Shore Cultural Center

At Optima, our appreciation for timeless architecture and design runs deep, and there’s no better way to feed that passion than by paying a visit to the historic South Shore Cultural Center. On the corner of 71st St and South Shore Drive sits the large, brick building with landscaped gardens, a golf course, beach access, and unbeatable lake views. Many do not know that the structure exists, and many more drive by every day without realizing the rich history of the center and its grounds. The South Shore Cultural Center is one of Chicago’s hidden gems with astounding architecture, interior design, and a wealth of history.

History

The South Shore Cultural Center was originally founded in 1905 to function as a country club similar to the Athletic and Union League clubs downtown.

Designed in the Mediterranean revival style by the architecture firm, Marshall and Fox, the club initially served the wealthy, white population of the South Shore neighborhood and offered stables, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, and a bowling green, along with a ballroom, and a private beach.

In the early 1960s, the demographic of the South Shore neighborhood began to change as black families integrated into the neighborhood, and white families left for the suburbs. Originally only open to white Protestants, by 1967, the club became open to anyone who wanted to join.

By 1973, struggling financially, the club liquidated its assets, and in 1975, the property was sold to the Chicago Park District.

Three sets of french doors fill the wall of an empty room with a chandelier swinging above them.
South Shore Cultural Center

Today

Thanks to a coalition of neighborhood activists and historic preservationists, the club’s original facilities remain standing today and are open to the public.

The Cultural Center serves as the home to the South Shore Cultural Center School of the Arts, an organization that provides community art classes, youth and teen programming, art and dance studios, a kiln, and the Paul Robeson Theatre.

The ballroom and banquet facilities can be rented for special events, and the golf course, beaches, and nature center remain open to the public.

A large chandelier is centered in the middle of a pink ceiling in a grand dining room with windows spanning the length of the wall.
South Shore Cultural Center Dining Room

Visit

The South Shore Cultural Center is easy to access from downtown on Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago Lakefront Trail also runs past the center, so it is possible to visit by bicycle. Plan a round of golf or bring the family for a beach day and picnic. 

The Cultural Center also functions as a sort of museum with plaques explaining the building’s history and architecture.

Schedule your visit and learn more about the center here

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Glencoe, IL





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