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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.

Wilmette Architecture Spotlight: Bahai’ Temple

Chicago has earned its place on the architectural map thanks to the countless architects who helped fill the city with unique designs. Not to be outdone, the Chicago suburb and home to Optima Verdana, Wilmette, also boasts a myriad of architectural wonders itself, from houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to a Prairie-style ‘L’ station still in use. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the architectural history behind Wilmette’s iconic Baha’i House of Worship. 

Plans to construct a Baháʼí temple in the United States began in 1903. At the time, only one other temple existed throughout the rest of the world in Turkmenistan. Baháʼí’s presence in and around Chicago made it the perfect city to build in, but leaders in the religion wanted to build in a quaint community outside of the city and eventually, they decided on Wilmette to harbor the temple. 

Constructing the dome of the Baha’i House of Worship, Wilmette

In 1907, individual Baháʼí contributors purchased two lots alongside Lake Michigan. Groundbreaking on the nearly 7-acre site began in 1912, but construction on the building didn’t start until eight years later, in 1920. The community chose Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois – a collaborator of Louis Sullivan – to design the temple. 

Bourgeois’ design drew inspiration from Baháʼís’ belief of unity and was chosen due to its diverse inclusion of architectural styles. The most prominent architectural styles include Neoclassic, Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and Islamic arabesque. The temple’s superstructure was completed in 1931, and construction on the building’s entire exteriors finished in 1943. However, the interior had yet to be designed. 

Designers had a difficult time choosing what material to use throughout the design, debating between granite, limestone, terra cotta and aluminum before deciding on concrete made of cement, quartz and other natural stone. Many intricate details are carved into the concrete drape across the exterior facade. Along with its lush gardens and fountains the temple’s most brilliant feature is its 72-foot-wide dome. The temple features nine dome sections and nine interior alcoves, symbolizing completion. 

An interior view from the top of the dome featuring the intricate Islamic arabesque design

More than 3,500 people attended the dedication of the temple in 1953 following the completion of its construction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is continuously voted one of the most must-see places in the country. 

Today, Wilmette’s Baháʼí’ House of Worship is the oldest standing temple of Baháʼí and the only in North America. To learn more about the architectural wonder and visit it yourself, head to the website here

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