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In its lively history, Chicago has had two great world fairs: The Columbian Exposition of 1893 celebrated four hundred years since Columbus discovered America. If you ever get a chance to see a photograph of “The White City,” you will be enchanted. The only surviving remnant of the fair site is the interactive, one of a kind, Museum of Science and Industry.
“A Century of Progress,” was the second world’s fair, opening in the grip of the Great Depression. Lake Michigan was its shimmering backdrop on the land where the museum campus resides today. “A Century of Progress” originated a new cooperation between science, business and government. The message was loud and clear, in the pavilions and displays: Americans needed to embrace the future, in everything from their cars to where they lived.
To dramatize this message, five new “Houses of Tomorrow” inspired much awe. The streamlined architectural design made use of experimental building materials. These model homes promised a future when central air-conditioning and dishwashers would be commonplace.
In 1935 at the fair’s end, a real estate developer, Robert Bartlett, became so enamored with the five houses he purchased them and transported them mostly by barge to Indiana, where he foresaw an idyllic resort community called Beverly Shores. He thought folks would flock to Beverly Shores to take a gander at the five houses of tomorrow.
Well, it turns out Bartlett’s vision was nothing but a pipe dream. People didn’t make a beeline to settle in Beverly Shores, historic houses or not. And the houses have been languishing, like forgotten sand castles, ever since.
The houses now belong to the National Park Service, which leases them to Indiana Landmarks. In turn, that group has leased them to residents who pay no rent but have covered all the steep renovation costs.
They are: The Wiebolt-Rostone House, the Florida Tropical House, the Cypress Log cabin, the House of Tomorrow and the Amco-Ferro House. Today they adorn the National Register of Historic Places.
The Wieboldt-Rostone House is located on the north side of Lake Front Drive, east of Dunbar Avenue. Its frame is made of steel, cloaked with a concoction of shale, limestone, and alkali named Rostone. This new material was touted for its superb durability. But Alas, the much hyped Rosetone didn’t live up to its claims. Rostone began chipping off the Wieboldt-Rosetone house in 1950. The residents repaired it by covering the Rostone with a concrete stucco called Perma-stone. Visitors can still see remnants of the original Rostone in various parts of its exterior.
The Florida Tropical House lies east of the Wieboldt-Rostone House on Lake Front Drive. The architect, Robert Law Weed’s idea was to combine indoor and outdoor in a two-story living room. Other design delights included spacious open terraces on the roof. Although Weed conceived this house in poured concrete, a tight budget caused him to use wood instead. The bright pink house became a cherished vision on the coastline.
On the south side of Lake Front Drive is the Cypress Log Cabin, the only house disassembled in Chicago and brought here by truck. The architect, Murray D. Heatherton, wanted to promote the varied uses of cypress. At the fair, the cabin evoked a rustic lodge appeal, decorated with animal heads, and fantasy creatures. When the cypress cabin moved to Beverly Shores, none of these adornments made the trip.
West of the Cypress Log Cabin is Chicago architect George Fred Keck’s “House of Tomorrow,” arguably the star of the show. The first floor sported the garage and an airplane hangar. Can you believe that fair goers believed that everyone in the future would have an airplane?
The House of Tomorrow’s second and third floor living spaces were originally clad in glass. Keck defied mechanical engineers, who warned the house couldn’t support heat in the winter. But as it turned out, the opposite was true. There was no heat loss during the winter because the level of solar heat gain actually reduced the need for mechanical heating. However, the air conditioning system failed in the summer when the solar gain was too great for the system to handle.
When Robert Bartlett moved the house to Beverly Shores, he replaced the glass walls with operable windows to allow for proper air circulation.
The Armco-Ferro House was the only house that held true to the original fair committee’s design criteria; a house that could be mass-produced and affordable for the average American family. It resembles a cardboard box, whose corrugated sections are covered with porcelain-enameled steel panels produced by the Ferro Enamel Corporation. This construction system later provided the inspiration for the post World War II prefabricated housing developed by the Lustron Corporation. Several Lustron houses can still be seen in Beverly Shores.
So you see, supreme innovation and imagination are alive, a short drove from New Buffalo. Various design trends and elements you take for granted, were first seen at the Century of Progress in 1933. And many are still around today ... air-conditioning, central air conditioning, pre-fab buildings, sun rooms, and rooftop gardens.
The past is indeed present in Beverly Shores, Indiana. To tour the homes contact Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at 219-395-1882 or http://www.dunesnationalpark.org/
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