The house that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan turns the page

The mere mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald conjures up images of the Jazz Age on the French Riviera, the Gold Coast of Long Island or the Manhattan of the Roaring Twenties. Yet it was Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago, that the writer considered the most glamorous place in the world.

She’s a girl who made the city wonderful for him. Ginevra King, the eldest daughter of stockbroker Charles Garfield King, was Lake Forest’s It girl. Known for her dark, curly hair and deep voice, Ginevra was part of a group of debutantes called the “Big Four” that included golfer Edith Cummings, one of America’s first female superstar athletes. Ginevra was definitely out of Fitzgerald’s league.

The sprawling 1906 home has been lovingly restored by its new owners, but it hasn’t lost many Jazz Age touches that Fitzgerald might recognize.

Eric Piasecki

The couple had a short relationship, first meeting at a party in Fitzgerald’s hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1915. They wrote letters to each other and Fitzgerald visited King at her home. , but within two years the relationship was over. In 1918, King will marry the son of a banker (and will be on the cover of City & Country). Fitzgerald would go on to write some of the most famous stories in American literature. However, whether it is Isabelle Borgé in This side of heavenher first novel, or Daisy Buchanan in gatsby, King inspired nearly all of Fitzgerald’s fictional wives. And Lake Forest would forever remain in his mind as more than a place, as an ideal. Kingdom Come Farm, the sprawling mansion built for the Kings in 1906 by Howard Van Doren Shaw, was the heart of the writer’s life in those days, and today it’s once again the big house he was. .

“Here’s the room where the party would head to the lawn,” says Jeanette Hodgkinson, pushing open the doors that lead to the backyard of the house she and husband Danny moved into in 2019. It’s probably there, if legend is true, Charles King told Fitzgerald that “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls”.

f scott fitzgerald
A fireplace with restored surround.

Eric Piasecki

But 1915 was a long time ago. Over the years, the luster of the house has faded; it changed hands several times and was remodeled in a Colonial Revival style with Art Deco touches in 1938. It was updated again in the mid-1950s, but after that nothing. Paint has peeled off, mold has set in, a statue in the pool made by the architect’s daughter, Sylvia Shaw Judson, is missing. “There was a male living in the back yard,” Danny said.

When the couple first visited the house, there were only a few months left before demolition. The Hodgkinsons bought Kingdom Come Farm and 1.4 acres, including an English garden, in the fall of 2018 for less than $700,000, a price significantly lower than in previous years when the house and five acres of land were sold. listed for over $6 million.

You could always tell through his fiction where Fitzgerald had been. His stay in France influenced Tender is the nightand, of course, Long Island’s busiest towns served as the setting for Gatsby the magnificent. But, judging by Fitzgerald’s writings, Lake Forest was a forgotten chapter in his life. This could explain why the importance of home has been overlooked. Even the Hodgkinsons were initially unaware of the connection. “It was just special,” says Jeanette.

Before the couple became aware of the house’s history, they were charmed by its details. The characteristics of Van Doren Shaw’s design are still present today. Every room is filled with light during the day, and frills of eggs and darts are everywhere. The living room features a Greek motif carved into the cornice which extends to the elliptical bay in the center of the room. The grand staircase up from the entrance has a breathtaking feel that they don’t like they used to feel.

Realizing the importance of the house, the Hodgkinsons chose restoration over renovation. Walls covered in lead paint were encapsulated to make them safe to touch, and the master bedroom’s onyx fireplace required specialist work at a “very high” price thanks to its rare green color. Luckily, their terrazzo repairman, on hand for another project, said he could fix it. With the help of a historian, the Hodgkinsons not only saved the house, they also helped give it historic status. Yet unraveling its mysteries took work.

“The town of Lake Forest tends to be very private,” says Jeanette. “We haven’t had too many people contacting us.” Boundaries have always been paramount in Lake Forest. The city was off-limits to blacks and Jews for decades, and even during World War I a middle-class Catholic like Fitzgerald might have caused a stir. Great houses emerged in the early 1900s, including Edith Rockefeller McCormick’s Villa Turicum, and although many of these houses were influenced by European design, Van Doren Shaw was interested in the American vision of the movement Arts and Crafts. And while most residents keep to themselves, some wanted to help, including a woman who had lived in the house as a child in the 1940s and who broke down in tears when Jeanette answered the phone.

In a way, the Hodgkinsons also found their way back. By restoring Kingdom Come Farm to its former glory, they have helped preserve Lake Forest’s ties to its own history, to American architecture, and to the writer whose words adorn a print that hangs in Jeanette’s office. This is the last page of Gatsby the magnificent, where Nick Carraway thinks of the green light that represented Gatsby’s hope for the days to come. Kingdom Come Farm was where Fitzgerald’s green light shone from. He thought the young woman who lived there was the future. He wasn’t wrong.

This story appears in the February 2022 issue of City & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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