The property at 803 West Hutchinson Street in Chicago –which houses the activities and archives of The 803 Foundation– is not only architecturally interesting and important, but is also noteworthy as the historical focus for the interdisciplinary thinking and the entrepreneurial activities of its original builder and owner.
Mr. Levant M. Richardson was a 19th century inventor and entrepreneur who patented the ball bearing wheel in 1884 to increase speed and efficiency of roller skate wheels. He established the Richardson Roller Skate Company and quickly gained a worldwide reputation for producing the world’s fastest competition skates. He quickly recognized the potential of the low-friction wheel and expanded his company’s focus to include production of other products that would benefit from improved performance and energy efficiency. Through his own efforts and licensing agreements (and in all likelihood through patent infringements), Richardson’s invention has since been incorporated into fly fishing reels, oscillating fans, conveyor belts, auto parts, skateboards, inline skates, swivel devices found in furniture and industrial equipment, “Lazy Susans”, and into wind turbines, to name but a few. Although he receives almost no credit and has no significant public recognition, Levant Richardson’s insightful blend of design, function, and efficiency has resulted in posthumous recognition as the second most important inventor of the 19th century, bested only by Thomas Edison. As the demand for energy efficient technologies continues to grow, it is likely that Levant Richardson’s invention will gain additional importance.
Richardson hired the respected architectural firm of Schmidt, Garden, and Martin to build a stately 15,000 square foot mansion in a newly developed rural retreat near the shore of Lake Michigan just north of Chicago. Between 1909 and 1911, the granite and copper Romanesque estate was built for the inventor, his wife, and their son, who had become a renowned roller skating champion. On the interior of the home, no expense was spared creating a showcase for Richardson’s success, with a layout that permitted entertainment on a very grand scale. Ornate plaster, leaded glass windows, and rare wood paneling were all used to create a spectacular and warm environment. Soon after the family moved onto property in 1911, the home was featured in an array of local and national publications. One implied that the home contained the finest residential woodwork in America. Another boasted that the corner lot was surrounded by iron fencing from Stewart Iron Works of Covington, Kentucky, purveyors to the White House. If the house did indeed set the standard for elegant living at the end of the Victorian era in America, it surely lost its edge quickly as newly conceived Prairie Style mansions were soon built on nearby lots by respected architect George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Although the city of Chicago has since grown to surround the land-marked "Hutchinson Historic District", the Levant Richardson home at 803 West Hutchinson Street, with its original fixtures, finishes, flooring, and dining room furniture is undoubtedly one of the most well-preserved historic residential spaces in the city of Chicago or beyond. Meticulous architectural preservation and restoration have been underway since 1997, with a goal to re-establish original function and appearance, while carefully camouflaged systems provide enhanced safety, security, and energy efficiency.