Lawler Avenue is only a two-block stretch in Cudahy’s Lake Michigan Highlands area east of South Lake Drive near Sheridan Park. The Highlands is an area of diverse architectural home styles that range from the 1920s through 2005. At the south end of Lawler are four mid-1950s era homes that I’m sure a lot of people have driven past and noticed their unique “Prairie” style.
The homes were designed by John Randal McDonald, a prominent architect who worked in the 1950s and 1960s. McDonald was born in Milwaukee in 1922 and served in World War II as an officer in the U.S. Navy before pursuing a degree in architecture. After a brief stint in the fine arts program at the State Teacher’s College, McDonald decided to pursue his interest in architecture, earning a degree from Yale.
Dave Erikson, who is writing a book about John Randal McDonald along with Melissa Grasser, was fortunate enough to actually buy, and move into, one of the famous architect’s homes on Lawler this summer. He will speak and show photos about McDonald, the home he lives in and the neighboring McDonald homes at the September meeting of the Cudahy Historical Society on Tuesday, September 17. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Historic Depot, 4647 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue.
McDonald’s work has often been compared to Wisconsin’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, because nature is a continuous theme in his design. He emphasized the importance of a natural setting and the use of natural materials. McDonald also encouraged homeowners to be aware of the elegance of the natural environment, thereby making them more sensitive to nature. McDonald designed unique homes that not only appealed to the general-public, but were affordable.
Initially, McDonald’s designs were predominately for private residences; however, as years passed and his success and reputation increased, he was commissioned to design monasteries, hotels, factories, dormitories, schools, and churches across the country and abroad.
McDonald constructed his first house, located in Racine, in 1949. In addition to Racine, McDonald designed several private, public, and religious buildings in Milwaukee and Kenosha. With his continued success, McDonald expanded his business and moved to Florida in 1963. McDonald was successful throughout his life as he designed hotels, banks, churches, and marinas throughout the world, as well as homes for various celebrities, such as Bjorn Borg, Mickey Mantle, Perry Como, Jimmy Connors, James Garner and Maureen O'Hara. McDonald died in 2003.
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