Remembering and recapturing architecture's future

July 6, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

"A Century of Progress" was Chicago's other world's fair. There was no Ferris Wheel. No Cracker Jack introduced to the masses. There was no Devil. No White City.

But the 1933 world's fair was an impressive exposition in its own right, sprawling down the lakefront between Roosevelt and 35th Street.While the Great Depression raged, the fair showed us a near-future of‚  television, affordable cars, air conditioned interiors, life-saving baby incubators, and man made stone that promised the look and durability of the real thing.

And three-quarters of a century after the Century of Progress, most of what was been created for the fair has been wiped away, with the exception of memorabilia from the event--which can still be pretty readily found. That and a collection of five exhibition houses that, after the fair, were sent to the town of Beverly Shores, Indiana 75 years ago, where they stand today. Four of the homes underscore the fair's technological theme (the fifth is a log cabin house).‚  Technology could solve our problems--a notion that now sometimes seems as quaint as a Currier & Ives print.

The houses sit right on the lakes shore and are part of the Indiana Dunes National Park. The homes were occupied, but had fallen into disrepair and vacated. In the 1990s,‚  the National Park Service and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana began a program that allowed new residents to get long-term leases to live in the unique properties in exchange for the new owners fixing them up. The effort is begging to bear fruit. The Florida Tropical House above is undergoing repairs, but the stucco exterior looks brand new compared to the pale pink near-wreck I saw several years ago.

Let's take a quick look. Click on the links to read the histories and see original fair photos of the homes.

The 12-sided House of Tomorrow--designed by Chicago modernists Keck & Keck--awaits a rehab:


(photo by Lee Bey)

Here's another view of the Florida Tropical House, seen from the steps of the House of Tomorrow. The home was designed with a rooftop deck and an attached one-car garage:


(photo by Lee Bey)

The Armco-Ferro House is undergoing a renovation:


(photo by Lee Bey)
 

The Wieboldt-Rostone House was built with a new kind of synthetic stone cladding which later failed‚  and was replaced by another synthetic material that proved just as weak, ultimately. It's now covered in protective plywood, but its blocky modernist massing is still evident:


(photo by Lee Bey)

And about that lease program? Read more here.