Consulate-General of Japan Celebrates 50 years of History of Its Official Residence in Evanston
• Local celebrities, dignitaries and those with personal ties to the building got together on April 18 to celebrate the house’s 50th year as the Official Residence of the Consul-General of Japan in Chicago.
• Among the guests were former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson,
who is known for his years of dedication to the U.S.-Japan friendship,
and Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, as well as Evanston
Mayor Steve Hagerty and the Residence’s neighbors. Devora Grynspan, President
of Northwestern University’s International Relations, and Richard Briggs,
grandson of one of the Residence’s previous owners, talked about the history
of the house. Joji Kagei, son of the first Japanese Consul-General to
have lived in the Residence, Umeo Kagei, reminisced about his childhood
days in the Residence.
• The house, built in 1912 as a private residence of Nathan W. Williams, was designed by Robert Spencer, who was a close friend and colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright. After a succession of prominent Chicago business leaders as its owners, the house was purchased by Owen Coon, Richard Brigg’s grandfather and a renowned Chicago philanthropist. The then owner of the Chicago White Sox, Arthur C. Allyn, purchased it after Coon had passed away.
• Gene Honda, widely known as a popular public address announcer for the White Sox and the Chicago Blackhawks, served as MC in the celebration. His uncle, Thomas Masuda, owned the Residence from 1966 until the Japanese government purchased it in 1968. Since that time, it’s been home to 23 Japanese Consul-Generals.
• In his opening address, current Consul-General Naoki
Ito noted that the house, created as a modern American residential home,
is one of the masterpieces by Robert Spencer. It was designated as Evanston’s
historical landmark in 1992.
• In his presentation, Stuart Cohen said Spencer and
Frank Lloyd Wright were so close that they even borrowed each other’s
clothes. They had shared an office and worked together, brainstorming
for new housing development ideas.
• Briggs spoke about his grandfather, Owen Coon, who
was the fifth owner of the house. Coon, born and raised in Illinois, enrolled
in Northwestern University in 1912, where he was mentored by Clarion DeWitt
Hardy, renowned professor of public speaking. He proceeded to the university’s
law school, and graduated with a law degree in 1919 after spending a year
in the U.S. Navy. As a lawyer, Coon won a lawsuit filed by a farm for
damages caused by a switchmen’s strike during 1921 – 1922.
• Coon purchased the house in 1940. Briggs thinks the decision was made (1) to please his wife who was from Evanston; (2) because it was a good deal; and (3) to use it as the place to entertain the Northwestern students who were the recipients of the scholarships and others.
• The Owen L. Coon Foundation was set up in 1946, with the first preparatory meeting held at the Residence on June 1st of that year. The foundation has been making donations to Northwestern University ever since, including the law library.
• Coon passed away from leukemia in 1948. His wife lived on at the Residence for the next few years, until she sold it to Arthur Allyn.
• Briggs, currently a counsel at Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell’s Los Angeles office, said he took over the Owen L. Coon Foundation in 1991, a foundation set up by his grandfather. He was responsible for its operation until 2017.
What became of the house after 1966?
• After the record snowfall in January 1967, Consul-General
Umeo Kagei was transferred to Chicago from Bangkok, Thailand, and he and
his family moved into the Residence. Joji Kagei was one of the family’s
eight children, spending a total of five years there from grade school
to high school.
Official Residence of Consul General of Japan (Photo: courtesy of the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago)
From left: Consul General Naoki Ito, former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson, and
Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty
Original fireplace still exists in the house.
The family crest of Nathan W. Williams can be seen in the photo.
Richard Briggs speaks about his grandfather Owen Coon, the fifth owner of the house.
Joji Kagei, one of eight children of Consul General Umeo Kagei,
who first resided in the house as a Consul General of Japan