The Cobden is a Richardsonian-Romanesque flats-above-storefront building that has anchored the northwest corner of busy Clark Street and residential Belden Avenue since 1892. It was designed by architect Charles Sumner Frost (1856 –1931) of the firm of Henry Ives Cobb (1859-1931) and Frost.
Born in Maine and trained as an architect in Boston, Frost moved to Chicago in 1882. When The Cobden was built, Frost was 36 years old and at the beginning of a new stage in his early mid-career. Cobb and Frost designed and began construction of the Potter Palmer mansion (1882-1885) at 1350 N. Lake Shore Drive (demolished in 1951). The Cobden, two miles to the north in Lincoln Park by Lake Michigan, was built in a burgeoning residential area at 418-424 Belden Avenue.
The Cobden is greatly influenced by the Richardsonian-Romanesque style which was prevalent among young architects in the 1880’s and 1890’s before the onset of the Beaux-Arts revival. Adapted to a residential-commercial street in a middle class neighborhood outside Downtown Chicago, The Cobden shows the characteristics associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque style. These include clear, strong picturesque massing, round-headed arches, clusters of short squat columns, recessed entrances, richly varied rustication, blank stretches of walling contrasting with bands of windows, and cylindrical towers with conical caps embedded in the walling.
The Cobden, in its bays and a prominent central gable that breaks above the roofline, presented an attractive architectural variety on Belden Avenue.
In 1897 Charles S. Frost married Mary Hughitt, the daughter of New York railroad tycoon Marvin Hughitt (1837-1928), the president of the Chicago and North Western Railroad. When the partnership of Cobb and Frost ended in 1898, Frost partnered with Mary’s sister’s husband, Alfred Hoyt Granger (1867-1939). Granger came to Chicago also from Boston (he was born in Ohio) and designed The Art Institute Building on Michigan Avenue in 1893. Frost and Granger were known for their designs of train stations and terminals such as the LaSalle Street Station in 1903. In the first decade of the 20th century, Frost and Granger designed over 100 buildings for the Chicago and North Western Railroad, including the massive Renaissance-Revival style Chicago and North Western Terminal which opened in 1912 (and demolished in 1984 to make way for the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Downtown Chicago).
When the Frost and Granger partnership ended by 1912, Frost began to work independently and designed in 1916 the Navy Pier Auditorium. Following his father-in-law’s death in 1928, Frost retired from his architectural practice at the end of the same year. After designing hundreds of public, commercial, and residential buildings, mainly in Chicago, Charles S. Frost died in 1931 at 75 years old.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 196.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XVII, 1920, pp. 336–337.