An early Skidmore Owings & Merrill-designed home faces uncertain future

May 18, 2011

Want to get your hands on a Skidmore Owings & Merrill-designed building, but the Inland Steel Building is far beyond your budget and Trump Tower and the John Hancock building aren't your cup of tea? Lake County officials might have a deal of sorts for you.

Under a proposed licensing agreement, the Lake County Forest Preserve District wants someone to restore the vacant 75-year-old Glen A. Lloyd House, a country home built in what is now Wright Woods Forest Preserve in suburban Mettawa.  In exchange, the district would allow the restorer exclusive use of the home under a long-term lease.

A condition of the lease--and it's a big one: the ability to pay the $1.6 million cost of restoring the 6,600 sq ft house, one of the earliest works of Chicago architects Skidmore & Owings, a firm that would become Skidmore Owings & Merrill when John O. Merrill joined the partnership in 1939. The home has been owned by the district since 2005 and has suffered years of water damage and disrepair. Forest preserve board membes told the Daily Herald last year that repairing the house on the public's dime did not make financial sense.

The forest preserve district's Director of Cultural Resources Katherine Hamilton-Smith said the agency wants see a variety of uses proposed and "is not particularly seeking" a residential reuse plan. But the district would consider leasing the home as a residence if it is financially feasible, she said. The cost of the lease would depend on the use, Hamilton-Smith said.

Letters of interest from those who have the loot and the demonstrated ability to repair the house and the surrounding grounds are due in to the forest preserve district by June 3, but Hamilton-Smith said "there has been very little interest from the public so far." 

The Lloyd House represents the work of SOM at its infancy--decades before it designed soaring skyscrapers, broad master plans and significant buildings that would define the firm's work from the Postwar period to the present. Completed in 1936--the same year the firm was founded--the home is contemporary for its time, but not modernist, although there seems to be a bit of the future SOM in the ribbon of windows along the second floor. Skidmore & Owings did other residential commissions in the 1930s, including prefab houses in Highland Park that were promoted in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, according to an SOM spokesperson.

Landmarks Illinois suggested the lease program to the Lake County Forest Preserve District, said the preservation group's advocacy director, Lisa DiChiera. Among the ideas being bantered around as possible uses: a bed-an-breakfast, a place for horseback riding enthusiasts,  a retreat location for non-profits or a day care facility. DiChiera said a non-profit use might be tough because "not that many non-profits could afford to take it on without a sizable gift from a donor."

There is one potential saving grace, though. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency determined the house was potentially eligible for a National Register of Historic Places listing. Such a listing could open the door for a 20% federal tax credit for a cost of a qualified rehab/restoration of the building, provided it is reused as an income-producing property.

Meanwhile the forest preserve district's Finance and Administration Committee will decide the Lloyd House's fate if no one steps forward to lease the home, Hamilton-Smith said.