Charles Vincent George Architects celebrated their first 50 years of creating a design aesthetic for communities across Chicagoland while showcasing their new offices on 1245 E Diehl Road at Washington Street on Wednesday.
The land planners, architects and designers of myriad public, commercial and residential projects, including Naperville’s famed Riverwalk and Moser Tower with the Millennium Carillon, were surrounded by family, friends and clients as they gathered to toast their growth and development as well as their future.
Founded by Chuck George in 1962, Charles Vincent George Architects initially was bolstered by work for well-known developers including Ralph Smykal and Harold Moser. In the ensuing years, the firm contributed to a community sense of style that ranged from bold residential statements to unifying public planning and building projects that set the guidelines for future development.
“Bruce asked me to give my insights into the first 50 years of practice in two minutes,” said Chuck George as he addressed the packed reception area of the newly-designed offices. “That reminds me an old movie called the ‘Time Machine’.”
Chuck explained the beginning. “It all began in 1962 with an ad I placed in Dodge Construction News looking for someone in need of architectural services in exchange for rent,” he said. “Ralph Smykal, a Wheaton developer that was starting Saybrook subdivision in Naperville, answered that ad and I moved into his lower level office space.”
Chuck reminisced about the mini-housing boom when Bell Labs moved to Naperville. He also said he exchanged work with Dean DeGeeter, owner of Dean’s Clothing, in order to rent property at 232 S. Washington and he later purchased the building where his business grew.
He remembered that Harold Moser was probably the most loyal client he ever had…it was never a question of bids… Moser would say “just get me some sketches …he had that much faith in our ability.”
Those sketches led CVG to create the look and feel of multiple residential developments, including Cress Creek, Illinois’ first golf course community, for which the firm also designed the Clubhouse in the late 1960s. The firm went on to design the stately Williamsburg-style White Eagle Golf Club in the golf course community designed by Arnold Palmer in Naperville for Moser’s Macom Development in 1985.
“Harold introduced me to his brother Jim Moser and in 1979, his sesquicentennial gift committee was looking for a project that would become the city’s ‘Gift to itself,” Chuck said. “A $200,000 matching grant was created by City Council.”
It was the relationship with Jim Moser, and then Mayor Chet Rybicki (The two men are depicted in the Century Walk sculpture below.) that drew Chuck onto a committee. The result was CVG’s first major land planning project, the Sesquicentennial Riverwalk, a linear urban park that ran through downtown Naperville along the West Branch of the DuPage River. Developed as a public/private partnership funded by the City, the Naperville Park District and private donations, its success, according to Chuck, stemmed from the cooperation of the various parties involved.
“Jim solicited the help of various contractors, and before you knew it we had enough help to do the entire first phase,” Chuck had explained earlier. “Community members, Cub Scouts and bank presidents worked side by side to help lay the bricks- over the next 10 years we got it done. It was truly a community project and the community loved it.”
The firm also designed the Park District headquarters and incorporated it into the site, and extended the design elements into the downtown with brick pavers and shepherd’s crook lamps.
“Some architect’s dream of skyscrapers as their legacy. …In our case, it was Riverwalk that was ours,” Chuck told guests who wished him well with plenty of applause.
Former Mayor & others remember
Former Mayor Peg Price credits Chuck George with creating a design standard for the community.
“His artistic ability lent a lot to everything he did, and everything he did, he did well,’ Price said. “Whether it was designing something new like the vision for the Riverwalk, or suggesting changes, as he did when we worked together to clean up the look of Ogden Avenue and create the new sign ordinance- you knew it would be darn good. He was a good listener, gave good advice and always had that ready smile that made you want to work with him.”
Growth of the East-West Research Corridor meant continued growth of both residential and commercial work for CVG, including unique executive homes throughout the more affluent communities and whole subdivisions with homes and bath and tennis clubs like Naperville’s Saybrook, Huntington, Stillwater, Breckenridge and River Run, as well as offices for Amoco and Bell Labs. Work in the neighborhoods led to work with the City of Naperville on the growing need for fire stations that fit the character of those neighborhoods.
“Building a fire station in a residential neighborhood is not typically met with enthusiasm by the neighbors,” Chuck said. “By the time we finished the first one, it fit so well into the community that the neighbors were borrowing sugar from the firemen and treating them like neighbors. That’s the ultimate compliment!”
The firm has designed six fire stations throughout Naperville.
Ray Kopp, then Vice President for developer Oliver Hoffman Corporation, worked with CVG on numerous projects. “There was benevolence, a great aesthetic contribution that Chuck brought to the projects, and that Bruce carries on today. They’ve always placed themselves at the center of the communities where they live and work…you can see that in all the homes they designed for Hoffman.”
Enter Bruce George
Bruce George followed his father into the business after spending summers cleaning up construction sites and laying bricks on the Riverwalk.
“My father wanted me to have a respect for the business, and working in it was the best way,” Bruce recalls.
He pursued a 6-year work-study degree program in Architecture from his father’s alma mater the University of Cincinnati. His senior thesis dealt with why iconic civic centers belonged in the center of a community. The 1986 presentation of his work to Naperville’s City Council, then considering the location of Naperville’s new City Hall, was the young architect’s first opportunity to impact Naperville’s future. Ultimately, the city fathers chose a site along the Riverwalk in Downtown as the location for the city building.
In 1986 Bruce joined the firm, becoming President and CEO in 1989. While he followed his father’s mission of providing responsive, high quality design with the highest degree of service, Bruce expanded the scope of service to include land planning, interior design and construction management, in addition to expanding their consultant partnerships to include environmental engineers, traffic consultants and land acquisition experts.
“Bruce led his growing firm with dedication to client service, imagination and a versatility that has served him well through good times and tough times,” said Phil Bielawski, who worked with CVG for over 15 years, as Development Director of Fifth Third Bank and later Construction Capital Projects Manager for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. “That approach pays dividends—they wouldn’t still be around if they didn’t care so much about understanding and achieving the owners’ goals.”
While continuing to design private homes and venturing into multi-family design, in 1993 CVG was named as a Regional Architect for Firstar Banks. The work led to subsequent relationships with Bank of America, PNC Bank, Harris Bank and Wintrust Financial. The firm recently completed the renovation of the historic 1939 Downtown Naperville Post Office building as the newest branch of Naperville Bank & Trust.
“Our experience has led us to understand that our job is to design facilitate the way our clients do business. In the case of the post office building, we understood that the heritage of the building as a community gathering place was important to the owners,” noted CVG Vice President, architect Jeff Lietz. “We retained the architectural details the community felt a connection to and we put the personal bankers near the entry to greet customers in keeping with the service philosophy of the bank. Details at the teller line accent an historic mural of Joe Naper that hung in the original post office and the president’s office is completely glassed in, so he can respond to customers as they arrive.”
Lietz added, “Architecture works best when you design for how people will ultimately use the space—that goes for a strip mall location or an iconic structure like this.”
In 1995, CVG designed the new 95th Street YMCA fitness facility that would expand the Heritage YMCA into south Naperville. Considered one of the premiere YMCA designs in the country, the Naperville facility is now being redesigned by CVG to accommodate increasing demand. The work has led CVG to the design of many other recreational based projects throughout the Chicago Metropolitan area including an imaginative play space at the Foglia YMCA in Lake Zurich, several other planned new facilities for the Chicago Metropolitan YMCA and the land planning and recreational design of a 500-acre Cub Scout Adventure Camp in Rochelle, Illinois for the Boy Scouts of America.
The New Millennium
Charles Vincent George Architects had another opportunity to contribute a project that would help define a community in 1999, when the firm was chosen to design the Moser Tower with the Naperville Millennium Carillon, a visually striking and award-winning structure that is among the largest towers of its kind in North America. Festooned with flags and featuring a sky-high observation deck, the 72-bell carillon anchors Naperville’s Rotary Hill and is a popular gathering spot for community events, concerts, weddings and watching fireworks on Independence Day.
By 2006, the firm’s residential division marked the completion of 100 projects in Hinsdale alone. In total, the firm has been engaged to design over 1600 residential design projects throughout Northern Illinois.
“We began designing for developers, but we evolved to become a firm that sets trends in suburban architecture that are innovative and fresh,” noted architect Patrick Fortelka, Vice President of residential design. “Our clients today seek us as professionals who solve design issues with a new aesthetic. We are also invested in cost and budget analysis, and competitive bidding assistance due to our commercial experience,” he says. “Those are added services that many residential architects are not capable of performing with any level of accuracy.”
CVG’s diverse portfolio of home designs have helped make communities including Naperville, Hinsdale, Burr Ridge, LaGrange, Wilmette and Chicago epicenters for fine residential design. “Architecture is as much an art form as music or art,” says Fortelka. “Our clients are continually surprised by the experience of living in our homes- they come to care about design as an art form that meets their particular needs.”
Fair Oaks Ford-Lincoln dealer and Naperville resident Norm Zienty has worked with Charles Vincent George on both residential and commercial designs.
“Our manufacturers want brand uniformity, but we need to think about the customer experience at the dealership- we need to create a productive and pleasant retail environment,” Zienty said. “I’ve known Chuck George though Rotary and the Riverwalk. Now working with Bruce, I can’t think of a guy who’s as good. His designs for the business and our home have been jaw-dropping, he understands budgets and working with the City to get things done right.”
Zienty added, “It’s especially nice to work with a company that really contributes to the spirit and the value of the community.”
“Charles Vincent George has so much history in our community, “said Mayor George Pradel earlier, unable to attend due to a prior obligation. “Chuck George was able to think outside the box – he created a beautiful vision for our city and his positive nature made us all want to be part of it.
“Bruce definitely caught that vision and has carried it forward, but with his own meticulous attention to detail and focus on getting things done right. They have been an important part of our community for 50 years,” the Mayor added.
Pradel sent Councilman Bob Fieseler in his place to congratulate the firm. During brief remarks, Fieseler touted CVG’s many landmark projects, including the Riverwalk and his “favorite Quigley’s,” an Irish pub in downtown Naperville.
Awards & magazine features, too
Charles Vincent George was a past recipient of the “Outstanding Firm of the Year” award by the American Institute of Architects Northeast Illinois Chapter and was recognized for Entrepreneurial Excellence by the Business Ledger. The River walk Linear Park has been recognized by the AIA as one of the Best 150 Places in the US. In addition, the project has been recognized by the Waterfront Center in Washington D.C.; the American Association of Nurserymen; the AIA Northeast Illinois Chapter and by the City of Naperville Citizen Architectural Advisory Board.
The City also bestowed Community Appearance Awards to CVG for the Park District Administration Building, Fire Stations #2 and #3, six commercial projects and the Strubler House. Additional AIA Northeast Chapter awards were given for White Eagle Golf Clubhouse, Breckenridge Bath & Tennis Club, and Oakhurst North Sports Core among others. Recognition for the Millennium Carillon was received from Midwest Construction and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. The Homebuilders Association of Greater Chicago has conveyed dozens of “Gold Key” awards to Charles Vincent George for Excellence in Custom Home Design and remodeling.
The firm has been featured in Chicago Home and Garden, Luxe magazine, Dream Homes and West Suburban Living magazine. A recently completed Hinsdale home remodel is currently featured as the cover story in Interiors, an international magazine of architecture, interior design, art and culture.
For more information on Charles Vincent Charles Architects, visit cvgarchitects.com.
Deb Newman contributed greatly to this story.
RELATED POST: In 2012, PN featured another story about CVG Design.