Some Indiana Dunes houses stay, others have to go

Some question why Park Service isn't saving more native Indiana homes.

October 22, 2010

Download Story
Photo by Michael Puente
Bill Beatty of Munster, Indiana, stands in front of the Florida Tropical Home he leases from the National Park Service.
Nestled among its unique collection of plants and wildlife, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Northwest Indiana also features some very unique homes.  Like the nature they're surrounded by, these unique houses have been preserved for the public to see, but their preservation comes with some controversy, too. 
 
Some of the homes date from last century's Chicago World's Fair, and they include what could be the region’s only pink Florida-style house.   While this might not be much of a story in Miami Beach, Florida, flamingo-pink homes are not the norm in Beverly Shores, Indiana.  And they're certainly not the norm inside a U.S. National Park.
 
"When you think about this, this is 1933 architecture and the main room or great room has 18-foot high ceilings, it’s 32-feet long, large expansive windows," says Bill Beatty, a local man working to preserve the structure.  "It really is extremely modern house for something that’s 75 years old."
 
The house sits on sandy dunes right on the Lake Michigan shoreline.   And although Beatty doesn’t own this house, he’s spent thousands of dollars to restore it.
 
"Financially, it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life," Beatty admits.  "On the other hand, it’s one of the most satisfying, most enjoyable things I’ve ever taken on."
 

Beatty's working to preserve this building because it was part of an exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair back in 1933.

 
The fair was billed as “A Century of Progress” and the homes included were designed to be homes of the future.  In addition to flamingo-pink paint, the home has a stainless steel staircase, chandeliers and a bathroom with pink fixtures.
 
"The house was built to last two years and now we’re trying to make it last forever," says Beatty.  "It would have been faster and less expensive to flatten it and start over and build a new home."
 
Beatty became involved in restoring the home because it was something his first wife, who has since passed, wanted.  He can live there if he chooses but there’s a catch.
 
"I have to open it to the public at least one day a year," says Beatty.
 
That day’s coming up this weekend, and it marks an odd anniversary.
 
75 years ago, Beatty’s pink flamingo house and four other “futuristic” homes were moved from the grounds of the Chicago World’s Fair to Beverly Shores, Indiana.
 
The idea came from a developer named Robert Bartlett.
 
"He was trying to come up with different gimmicks to entice people to come to Beverly Shores, to look at the properties and that was one of his gimmicks," explains Judy Collins, the official historian of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
 
She says these odd homes are on the National Register of Historic Places because they were at the world’s fair.  But there’s controversy over the Century of Progress homes.
 
And, here’s why.
 
They ended up in an area that eventually became the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park.
 
Other homes, native Indiana homes, were in the same park, but they’ve been demolished the past few decades - all for the sake of pristine dunes and forest.
 
"We have both an obligation to preserve the natural resources and to our preserve our cultural resources," says Collins.  "So we have to strike a balance in that effort."
 
But some people say the U.S. National Park Service isn’t striking the right balance.
 
Just a few native Indiana homes are left in the park, and they want them preserved, too, just like Beatty’s pink palace.
 
According to preservationist Marjory Crawford one such home is owned by the Read family.  He admits it's not as fabulous as the Century of Progress homes from Chicago.  It’s just a rustic, one-story house.  But Crawford says Read Place is where people discussed creating a national park in dunes in the first place.
 
"The Read house is a perfect place because it was also a place for the Isaac Walton League," explains Crawford.   "And the Isaac Walton was formed specifically to help with the preservation of the Indiana Dunes. We just wish they’d be a little more flexible. It has historical value."
 
The Park Service says it hasn’t set a demolition date for the Read Place.
 
That gives Crawford time to make her case that there’s room at the Indiana dunes for some quirky Chicago homes - and some Indiana ones, too.