A Monument of American Modernism
Indiana Landmarks and the National Trust urgently need your help to restore the House of Tomorrow, a Chicago landmark in the Indiana Dunes that set the direction for housing in America.
In the depths of the Great Depression in 1933-34, the House of Tomorrow at the Chicago World’s Fair offered millions a hopeful vision of a brighter, easier future. Chicago architect George Fred Keck designed the House of Tomorrow to inspire fairgoers to want what they saw: a modern home with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, central air conditioning, an innovative open floor plan, the first General Electric dishwasher, an “iceless” refrigerator, an attached garage whose door opened at the push of a button, an attached hangar for the family airplane.
Titled the “Century of Progress,” the fair drew 39 million people to see how advancements in science and technology could improve daily life. Very few structures remain from the fair, but five exhibit houses, including the House of Tomorrow, survived and traveled by truck and barge across Lake Michigan to Beverly Shores, Indiana. The houses remained in private hands until the land they occupied became part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The houses were deteriorated until Indiana Landmarks leased four from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, then sub-leased them to tenants who restored them. The House of Tomorrow—the most architecturally innovative and historically significant of the collection—has been vacant since 1999 and needs rehabilitation that will cost $2.5 million.
Media in the ‘30s called it “America’s First Glass House.” It predated Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House by many years. “The House of Tomorrow…is one of the true early monuments of American modernism, brimming over with a uniquely American idealism and earnestness about the twentieth century,” declared noted architecture critic Paul Goldberger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
To help save it, the National Trust for Historic Preservation on October 19, 2016 designated it a National Treasure. Of the 80-plus National Treasures in the U.S., it is the only National Treasure in Indiana.
Indiana Landmarks, working with the National Trust and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, assembled an architecture and engineering team to take the House of Tomorrow back to its 1933 appearance. The team, led by bKL Architecture includes Bauer Latoza Studio; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.; Willoughby Engineering; and HJKessler Associates. The designers will emulate original architect George Fred Keck in harnessing new materials and technology to restore House of Tomorrow as a sustainable, accessible, groundbreaking residence for the 21st century.
The National Park Service faces a maintenance backlog of approximately $12 billion. “The lease between Indiana Landmarks and the National Park Service will…serve as a national model for the preservation of thousands of important historic National Park Service buildings,” noted David J. Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Our goal is to preserve this outstanding building and raise awareness and appreciation of the House of Tomorrow, the architect George Fred Keck and the Century of Progress, both regionally and nationally, and to raise the money to make this possible,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.
Learn more about the House of Tomorrow in this report from WTTW Chicago.
You can donate to the restoration project here, and check back for regular updates about the project.