Wildwood One of Lake County's Utopias

Article excerpt

Byline: Diana Dretske

Families move for different reasons - better schools, better job, bigger house - but always in the hope of improving their quality of life.

In 1995 alone, 5,000 new homes were built in Lake County to accommodate the continuing trend toward suburban living.

In 1899, four wealthy German-Jewish families from Chicago united in a vision of how they all should live, sought out their own suburban "utopia." The Forman, Leopold, Steele and Schwab families bought a sizable wooded tract in Highland Park and built four Queen Anne-style homes and a clubhouse on Hazel Avenue. The families named the compound "Wildwood," and from 1899 through the 1920s, the haven bustled with up to 30 family members and their servants.

According to historian Michael Ebner of Lake Forest College, the families "created their compound to fulfill a need as they found themselves excluded because of their religion from the clubs and institutions associated with upper-class life elsewhere in the metropolis."

Marion Steele Stern, a daughter of one of the families, was more unsure of the reason for the move.

She wrote in her autobiography, "Why did the family move bag and baggage to Highland Park every June ... ? To save money? To keep my grandmother company? Because we city children needed a slow green experience ... ? No matter. It was the happiest day of my year when (we left for Highland Park)."

"Wildwood" became the Germany of their roots. The clubhouse, where they enjoyed shared meals, had a Black Forest motif. "Brown and heavy" as Marion Stern recalled with dark green cloth-covered walls displaying deer and bear heads and tall silver-capped steins on the fireplace shelf. …