Chicago architect George W. Maher was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright who helped popularize the enduring Prairie School style of architecture for which Wright is better known. Both learned their trade in Chicago’s vibrant post-fire architectural community—Maher as an apprentice from the age of 13, and Wright as a young draftsman just out of high school. Eventually, they served together as draftsmen at Joseph Silsbee’s influential firm in the late 1880s.
Maher was born in Mill Creek, West Virginia on Christmas Day in 1864. The family soon relocated to New Albany, Indiana, and later to Chicago in the late 1870s. Maher began his architectural career soon after the family’s arrival in Chicago, as an apprentice at the age of 13. By the late 1880s, he joined Silsbee’s firm, where he worked alongside Wright for nearly three years.
Both Maher and Wright began designing houses in the early 1890s, for themselves and a small list of clients, largely within the prevailing style of the time—Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival. Maher built his home in the North Shore neighborhood of Kenilworth, and Wright in the Western Suburb of Oak Park.
Yet both seemed hungry—perhaps invigorated by their involvement in the construction, drafting, and planning of the 1893 World’s Fair—to expand their style to new forms of architecture. Wright had served as a top draftsman for the firm of Adler and Sullivan, where he had learned from Sullivan’s elaborate ornamentation while adding his own geometric forms. Maher was undoubtedly influenced by Sullivan and Wright’s work, but veered more toward an English Arts and Crafts style.
The Kenilworth Club (1907) at 410 Kenilworth Avenue. The club serves as the community center for the Village of Kenilworth. | Source
Lantern and eave near the doorway of the Kenilworth Club. | Source
Stained glass decoration inside the doorway of the Kenilworth Club. | Source
Rear entrance of the Kenilworth Club. | Source
The Frank G. Ely House (1910) at 305 Kenilworth Avenue. | Source
Angle view of 305 Kenilworth Avenue. | Source
House (1908) at 306 Kenilworth Avenue. | Source
Manuel B. Hart House (circa 1907) at 315 Abbotsford Road, attributed to George W. Maher. | Source
Wallace L. Serrel House (1908) at 337 Abbotsford Road. | Source
C. M. Roe House (1905) at 337 Essex Road. | Source
In 1897, Maher received a commission for a large house at a prominent corner in Wright’s hometown of Oak Park. Pleasant Home, finished in 1899 (and named for the streets intersecting at its location), was one of the first pure expressions of what would become known as the Prairie Style.
Maher’s Pleasant Home synthesized many of Wright’s vertical geometric expressions into a more uniform horizontal theme, embellishing the strong and simple design with subtle, repeating thematic ornamentation (a Louis Sullivan influence) that Maher later called “motif-rhythm theory.”
The elegant, impressive Pleasant Home resulted in a boom for Maher’s residential design practice. From 1901 until 1910, he was at or near the top of any list for a high-end residential architecture project in the Chicago area.
View of George W. Maher's Pleasant Home (1897-99), where Pleasant Street meets Home Avenue. | Source
Entrance view of Pleasant Home (1897-99). | Source
Close view of Pleasant Home entrance. | Source
Closeup of detail on column at Pleasant Home. | Source
The porch at Pleasant Home. | Source
Southern exposure of Pleasant Home. | Source
Details of the sunroom of Pleasant Home. | Source
Interior of Pleasant Home. | Source
The James Hall Taylor House (1911) at 405 North Euclid Avenue, now Unity Church of Oak Park. | Source
Side view of 405 North Euclid Avenue. | Source
Charles R. Erwin House (1905) at 530 North Euclid Avenue. | Source
Herman W. Mallen House (1905) at 300 North Euclid Avenue. | Source
Side view of 300 North Euclid Avenue. | Source
Front view of John C. Scales House (1894) at 840 W. Hutchinson St. | Source
Side view of 840 W. Hutchinson as seen from Hazel St. | Source
The Grace Brackebush House (1909) at 839 W. Hutchinson St. | Source
Closeup view of 839 Hutchinson entrance. | Source
Side view of 839 Hutchinson | Source
839 W. Hutchinson as seen from Hazel Street. | Source
Rear view of 839 W. Hutchinson. | Source
The Claude Seymour House (1913) at 817 W. Hutchinson Street. | Source
The entrance to 817 W. Hutchinson Street | Source
The William H. Lake House (1904) at 826 W. Hutchinson St. | Source
The Edwin J. Mosser House (1902) at 750 W. Hutchinson St. | Source
Angle view of 750 W. Hutchinson. | Source
Side view of 750 W. Hutchinson. | Source
Closeup view of detail on 750 W. Hutchinson. | Source
Other Chicago Homes
The J. Lewis Cochran House (1897) at 1521 N. State Parkway in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. | Source
Angle view of 1521 N. State Parkway. | Source
Front door of 1521 N. State Parkway. | Source
Detail view of balcony at 1521 N. State. | Source
The King-Nash House (1901) at 3234 W. Washington Blvd. on the West Side, near Garfield Park. | Source
Angle view of 3234 W. Washington Blvd. | Source
Closeup view of entrance at 3234 W. Washington Blvd. | Source
The Albert B. Towers House (1894) at 551 W. Stratford Place in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. | Source
Closeup view of entrance at 551 W. Stratford Place. Note detailed ornamentation on address stone. | Source
The Julius H. Holsher House (1902) at 4506 N. Sheridan Road in the Uptown neighborhood. | Source
House (1903) at 1607 West Touhy Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood. | Source
The Harry M. Stevenson House (1909) at 5940 N. Sheridan Road in the Edgewater neighborhood. | Source
Rear entrance view of 5940 N. Sheridan Road. | Source
Above rear view of 5940 N. Sheridan Road, across the street from Lake Michigan. | Source
Adolph Schmidt House (1917) at 6331 N. Sheridan Road, on the shore of Lake Michigan. | Source
Closeup view of entrance at 6331 N. Sheridan Road | Source
Doorway of 6331 N. Sheridan Road. | Source
Balcony detail at 6331 N. Sheridan Road. | Source
Arthur Deppman House (1904) at 5356 N. Magnolia Avenue in the Edgewater neighborhood. | Source
Maher was also admired as an architectural scholar. He wrote numerous articles in architectural trade magazines describing his philosophy and ideas. In 1916 he was elected as a Fellow by the American Institute of Architects, and he served as state chapter President in 1918.
After World War I, Maher added his son Philip B. Maher to his firm and changed the name to George W. Maher & Son. By this time, the firm was designing public buildings, parks, and large commercial buildings—not only in Chicago, but around the nation. In the early 1920s, poor health and increasing bouts with depression began to limit Maher’s own contributions to the firm’s output. On September 12, 1926, Maher took his own life at the age of 61.
Wright outlived Maher by more than 32 years, becoming synonymous with Prairie Style architecture as it began to return in vogue in the 1950s—even as Wright had long since moved on to more experimental and contemporary styles.