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Team announced for restoration of The House of Tomorrow in Beverly Shores

March 16, 2017 - Chesterton Tribune

The team chosen to lead the rehabilitation of The House of Tomorrow was announced this month by Indiana Landmarks and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The House of Tomorrow--America’s first all-glass residence, designed by Chicago architect George Fred Keck for the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair and named a National Treasure last year by the National Trust--currently sits, dilapidated, atop a sand dune at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Beverly Shores.

The design team working to rehabilitate America’s first glass house includes the following Chicago-based firms: bKL Architecture; Bauer Latoza Studio; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.; Willoughby Engineering; and HJKessler Associates.

Last fall Indiana Landmarks and the National Trust launched a $2.5-million campaign to restore the house, and National Park Service and Indiana State Historic Preservation staff will ensure the project meets preservation standards.

“In the midst of the Great Depression, the House of Tomorrow offered 39 million World’s Fair visitors an optimistic look into the future of residential architecture and modern technology, with a focus on how advancements in science and technology could improve daily life,” Indiana Landmarks and the National Trust said in a statement released this week. The goal is “to restore the House of Tomorrow while sharing Keck’s goal of making it a visionary dwelling, this time for the twenty-first century.”

“In his design for the House of Tomorrow, Keck underscored the fair’s theme by showing people a new way to live in what the media called ‘America’s First Glass House,’” the statement said. “The glass curtain-wall structure predates Mies van der Rohe’s 1951 Farnsworth House in Illinois and Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House in Connecticut.”

“The large expanses of glass introduced the concept of passive solar energy as a sustainable heating technique for the first time,” the statement noted. “Four years later, Keck developed Thermopane glass with the Libbey-Owens-Ford company. In his long career--he died in 1980--he designed 300 passive solar houses, most in the Chicago area.”

“Keck also introduced new inventions and modern conveniences in the House of Tomorrow, including an ‘iceless’ refrigerator, the first-ever General Electric dishwasher, and an open floor plan--an innovation in 1933,” the statement added. “To create the twelve glass sides, Keck designed a central hub of posts connected to girders that radiated like the spokes of a wheel. A central steel core contained mechanical equipment. The cantilevered girders provide support for the concrete-slab second and third floors, along with slender steel columns, allowing clear spans for open interior spaces.”

When the World’s Fair closed in 1934, Chicago developer Robert Bartlett used barges and trucks to ship the House of Tomorrow and other Century of Progress structures to Beverly Shores. Five Century of Progress houses were sold and remained in private hands until the land became part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore between 1966 and the early 1970s.

“All five were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s, but by the mid-1990s the homes were in alarmingly poor condition,” the statement said. “Since there was no public money to restore the houses, Indiana Landmarks proposed a solution that hadn’t been previously considered: long-term leases.”
Indiana Landmarks subsequently leased the Century of Progress houses from the National Park Service, and over the last 15 years has subleased four of the five to individuals who restored them in exchange for a long-term residency. The restoration cost for each house--borne solely by the sub-lessees--has since reached over $1 million. The House of Tomorrow, however, posed unusual challenges and led Indiana Landmarks to tackle the rehabilitation itself.

To contribute to the restoration of the House of Tomorrow, a rare World’s Fair survivor that will burnish George Fred Keck’s legacy, visit https://www.indianalandmarks.org/about/special-projects/house-of-tomorrow/