Monday, December 15, 2014

Frances Glessner Lee and World War I

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

Both today and in 1918, Great Lakes Naval Training Station sailors like to visit Chicago while on leave. During World War I, the number of sailors at Great Lakes increased dramatically. Many of these sailors were young and far from home, some for the first time. Frances Glessner Lee recognized the morale raising potential of entertainment in a private home. With her friends Henry E. Voegeli, Assistant Manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Mrs. Lee invited sailors to her home at 1700 S. Prairie Avenue on Sunday evenings for a good meal, music or lecture, and friendship.

In order to assist the sailors as best she could, Mrs. Lee created a file for each sailor that she entertained. The files recorded the dates of their visits, dates of correspondence sent and received, gifts she sent, a physical description, their mother’s address, and her overall impression of the young man. Mrs. Lee also attached letters, postcards, and photos she received from the sailors and their families to her records and marked the records of the sailors she liked best with gold star stickers. Given the large number of gold star records, Mrs. Lee seemed to greatly enjoy her evenings with the Great Lakes sailors.

Notes on Roy Cotterill

After leaving Great Lakes, Mrs. Lee’s sailors scattered across the United States and Europe. Many of the sailors wrote to Mrs. Lee after leaving Great Lakes, but five sailors were particularly devoted correspondents. Charles Young and Talmage Wilson both belonged to the Great Lakes band. After Great Lakes, the Navy assigned Talmage Wilson to play with the U.S.S. Alabama band. 

U.S.S. Alabama band on deck

Talmage Wilson

Charles Young remained at Great Lakes for most of the war as a member of a touring naval band led by John Philip Sousa. He sent Mrs. Lee letters and postcards from the band’s Midwestern Liberty Loan tour stops. 

Charles Young

Herbert Wilson (no relation to Talmage Wilson) sent lighthearted letters from the Naval Radio School at Harvard University. He and Mrs. Lee penned a series of humorous exchanges between “I.M.A. Fish,” “Ananias Johnson,” and “Captain Blowhard.” Joseph McCarthy’s letters were far more serious than the other sailors. McCarthy frequently declared that he loved Mrs. Lee as much as his own mother. He sailed with the U.S.S. Kentucky and wrote Mrs. Lee dozens of letters, several of which detailed the dangers of German U-Boats to Allied Atlantic convoys.

U.S.S. Kentucky

Joseph McCarthy

Fred. M. Wolfe was a particular favorite of Mrs. Lee’s. A Colorado Springs native, Wolfe’s heart trouble and shy nature also concerned Mrs. Lee when they met in 1918. Mrs. Lee corresponded both with Wolfe’s mother and his younger brother Lawrence, a soldier in France. According to the letters, Mrs. Wolfe even visited Mrs. Lee in Chicago in 1918. After Great Lakes, the Navy sent Wolfe to the radio training school at Harvard University. Unlike the other Great Lakes sailors, Wolfe continued his friendship with Mrs. Lee after the war and visited her often at Wendell House in Boston.

Fred Wolfe

Mrs. Lee fell out of touch with many of her sailors during the fall of 1918. Several of her correspondents worried that Mrs. Lee was a victim of the flu epidemic. Mrs. Lee was not ill, but busy with a new endeavor in Boston.

Mrs. Lee wanted to do more for sailors than simply provide them dinner and an evening’s entertainment. She wanted to give them a home away from home. As early as February 1918, Mrs. Lee’s letters expressed an interest in starting a dormitory for servicemen on leave. In November, 1918, this dormitory became a reality. Mrs. Lee accepted the position of Resident Manager at Wendell House, a home for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in adjoining houses at 31 Mt. Vernon St. and 75 Hancock St. in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The Massachusetts Branch for Women of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness funded Wendell House. Though other servicemen’s homes operated in Beacon Hill at the time, Wendell House was unique as Mrs. Lee actually lived at Wendell House and conducted the house less like a servicemen’s club and more like a private home. The Special Aid Society even furnished Wendell House with used, donated furniture in order to achieve a “lived in” atmosphere. According to Mrs. Lee, the servicemen approved of Wendell House. On December 14, 1918 she wrote to her mother's Monday Morning Reading Class that “the boys all say ‘well ma’am, this is the only place we have ever struck that is just like home.’ They settle down as contentedly as cats.”

Wendell House parlor

Wendell House offered servicemen lodging in dormitories or a private room. A bed in a private room cost $0.50 per night and a bed in a dormitory room cost $0.35 a night. Each bed, dormitory room, or private room was sponsored by an individual donor or branch of the Special Aid Society. Though Wendell House had a capacity for one hundred men, the couches were sometimes rented out and cots put up to accommodate as many servicemen as possible. Breakfast was available for a nominal fee in the Wendell House cafeteria. Mrs. Glessner and the Monday Morning Reading Class provided the necessary funds to outfit this cafeteria. By April 17, 1919, Wendell House hosted 1,212 different servicemen since opening in December 1918. Wendell House had a high number of repeat or long-term guests as 7,733 beds were occupied in this same period.  

A dance at Wendell House

Mrs. Lee corresponded with fewer Wendell House servicemen, but still took an interest and tried to help them when she could. Several letters indicate she counseled soldier Joseph Hemmes throughout his court-martial and helped unemployed veterans secure jobs. In April 1919, Mrs. Lee described the appreciation of a down and out veteran to the Monday Morning Reading Class:
“His clothes were so forlorn & he had such a hopeless, lost-dog sort of look that we decided he would never get a job so long as he looked that way. I have a little fund of $10.00 a month given by the Winchester Branch to relieve any cases of financial distress. So I took a $10.00 bill and gave it to Charlie (one of our guard) & told him to take this boy out & get him new clothes…Then I gave him a dollar & sent him forth for a job. Wednesday he got one & has gone there today. He said ‘I was ashamed to look anyone in the face, but now I’m all right. I’m going to pay you for all dem tings soon’s I get some pay. I don’t see how you done all dis fer me. It sure wuz my lucky day win I come here.’” Mrs. Lee received similarly warm and appreciative thanks in letters from many Wendell House servicemen and their families.

Soldiers in front of Wendell House

According to Mrs. Lee, “Wendell House has the reputation throughout this naval district of being ‘the best place in Boston’ and all the canteens and service houses and hostess rooms know ‘Wendell House Boys’ to be the pick of the three services.” Wendell House was a great success. By July 1919, Mrs. Lee resigned from her position as Resident Manager and returned to The Rocks. Though gone, Mrs. Lee’s hospitality and kindness were not forgotten by the soldiers and sailors she befriended from Great Lakes and Wendell House.

ABOUT OUR GUEST AUTHOR:
Siobhan Heraty was an intern this fall at Glessner House Museum. She is a master’s student in the public history program at Loyola University Chicago. Siobhan developed an interest in World War I as an undergraduate history major and continues to explore this interest as a graduate student through research projects related to American memory of World War I. Given her research interests, working with the Great Lakes and Wendell House collection was an interesting and enjoyable experience for Siobhan.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fire damages Chicago Firehouse Restaurant

Chicago Tribune photo

Fire tore through the landmark structure housing the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant at 1401 S. Michigan Avenue in the South Loop on Wednesday December 10, 2014.  The fire began accidentally about 10:20am by workmen making repairs to the roof.  It quickly spread and the roof eventually caved in.  Everyone was safely evacuated from the building.

Exterior in 1912

The structure was built in 1905-1906 to house Engine Company 104 of the Chicago Fire Department.  Architect Charles F. Hermann designed the distinctive structure in the Romanesque Revival style, utilizing yellow brick and limestone in its construction.   Two bays facing Michigan Avenue accommodated the horse-drawn equipment, and the large second floor provided living quarters for the firefighters on duty.   

Interior circa 1948

The back portion of the second floor was used as a hayloft for the horses.  After motorized equipment was introduced, that space was converted to a handball court.  Portions of the 1991 movie Backdraft, directed by Ron Howard, were filmed in the structure.

The fire house operated until 1999 when the property was sold to investor Matthew O’Malley, who opened the restaurant the following year.  Careful attention was paid to preserving many of the original details of the building.  The restaurant interior retained the tin ceiling, glazed brick walls, and two brass fire poles.  The metal spiral staircase up to the living quarters was removed and reinstalled in the new courtyard, created from the space formerly occupied by the horse stables.  

Simmerling paintings being removed from the building

The sense of history was enhanced by artist Jack Simmerling who created several large watercolor paintings to decorate the dining room.  These included scenes of nearby Prairie Avenue, as well as the Potter Palmer “castle” and the Cyrus McCormick mansion on the city’s north side. 


On October 1, 2003, the building was designated a Chicago Landmark.  The plaque installed on the front of the building reads:

“The design of this firehouse incorporated many innovations aimed at achieving quick departures and providing more comfortable quarters for firefighters.  Its Romanesque Revival-style details also make it one of the more distinctive and handsome firehouses in the City.  Through their history and architecture, Chicago’s historic firehouses show how ideas about fire protection and the firehouse itself evolved over time.”

After the fire had been extinguished

The restaurant was a favorite of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who lived nearby on Indiana Avenue.  In July 2006, he hosted a dinner for then President George W. Bush, who celebrated his 60th birthday in the private banquet room on the second floor.  

The owners announced almost immediately their intentions to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible.

NOTE:  Historic images from "History of Chicago Fire Houses of the 20th Century 1901-1925" by Ken Little and John McNalis, published in 2000.



Monday, December 8, 2014

The Auditorium and Ferdinand Peck


Tuesday December 9, 2014, marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.  Much has been written about the Auditorium Building, its magnificent theater, the architects Adler & Sullivan who designed it, and its importance in the history of American architecture.  In this article, the 200th published to our blog since we began in January 2011, we shall look at the home of Ferdinand Wythe Peck, the driving force behind this monumental undertaking. 

Peck’s family was among the earliest to arrive in what would become the city of Chicago.  His father Phillip F. W. Peck, and mother Mary Kent Peck, arrived at the settlement of 250 inhabitants at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1831 aboard the schooner “Telegraph.”  Phillip Peck became a successful merchant in the rapidly growing city, and by the time of Ferdinand’s birth in 1848, was residing in a fine home at the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard, later site of the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company.


Ferdinand Peck studied law and was admitted to the Chicago bar, but with the advantages of a privileged upbringing, devoted most of his efforts to civic affairs and becoming a promoter of his native city.  He was one of the founders of the Art Institute and a major backer of Chicago’s first opera festival in 1885, which led directly to the idea for the new Auditorium.  He incorporated the Chicago Auditorium Association in 1886 and served as its president.  Peck envisioned not just a grand theater, but the largest and most expensive theater in the world.  The complex would include a hotel and office block to help support the lavish productions anticipated for the theater.  Fellow board members included Marshall Field, George Pullman, Edson Keith, and many other business and social leaders who lived on and around Prairie Avenue on the city’s near South side.

As work continued on the Auditorium Building, Peck engaged William LeBaron Jenney to design a new home for him at 1826 S. Michigan Avenue, in the exclusive residential district where many of his board members resided.  The imposing structure, faced in Vermont granite, featured a massive four-story square tower over the entrance way at the north end, balanced by a three-story rounded tower to the south.  The overall design was Romanesque Revival, later known as Richardsonian Romanesque in honor of its chief practitioner, Henry Hobson Richardson.  Richardson had three structures underway in Chicago at the time including the Marshall Field Wholesale Store, and large homes for Franklin MacVeagh on North Lake Shore Drive, and the Glessner House at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue. 


Mr. and Mrs. Peck were anxious to host President Benjamin Harrison at their new 30-room home for dinner following the opening of the Auditorium Theater on December 9, 1889; however the house was far from finished as the time approached.  In the three days leading up to the opening, crews worked 24 hours a day to finish painting the rooms, installing furniture and draperies, and making sure everything was in order to welcome the presidential party.  Friend and neighbor Marshall Field loaned furniture, draperies, and rugs from his store.


The dinner party at the house went off as planned, with guests including President Harrison, Vice President Levi P. Morton, members of his cabinet, and Adelina Patti, the opera star who had sung “Home, Sweet Home” at the Auditorium dedication.  An oft repeated story states that when President Harrison arrived at the house and exited his carriage, he looked up at the fa├žade of the house, which did bear a strong similarity to the Auditorium Building, and referred to it as the “Auditorium, Jr.”

"The Exposition Out of Debt"

Ferdinand Peck, known for years as “Commodore Peck” due to his interest in yachting, remained active in civic affairs, although the Auditorium would always be considered his greatest achievement.  He served as first vice-president and chairman of the finance committee of the World’s Columbian Exposition – one of the few world’s fairs ever to make a profit.  Many important guests were entertained at the Peck home during the Fair, including the Infanta Eulalia of Spain.

A few years later came another president – President William McKinley – who in 1900 appointed Peck as the American commissioner-general to the Paris exposition of that year.  In the years following, many European dignitaries Peck met during that Fair were entertained in his home.

Peck continued to live in his Michigan Avenue house until his death on November 4, 1924, even though the character of the street had significantly changed by that time.  In the early 1900s Michigan Avenue saw a rapid transformation from a fine residential street into what became known as “Motor Row,” with more than 100 automobile dealerships lining the avenue both north and south of the old Peck house.  At least one of those buildings, a beautiful Second Empire style white terra cotta clad building at 1925 S. Michigan, was financed by Peck as an investment in 1911, and was leased to B. F. Goodrich.  (It still stands today and is now part of the Motor Row Historic District). 

Photo by Jack Simmerling

Peck’s widow and son, Ferdinand Jr. remained in the house for several more years, later moving to a spacious apartment at 2238 Lincoln Park West.  The house was sold to another family and was eventually cut up into numerous small apartments.  The last mention of the old house in the Chicago Tribune was in November 1967 when the Auditorium Theater was reopened after a major restoration.  Arthur Johnson, a reporter for the Tribune wrote, in part:

“The mansion, massive and majestic, still stands, as tho in defiance of the commercial buildings surrounding it.  Weeds grow in the front and side yards.  Several windows are cracked or broken and a ‘rooms for rent’ sign is nailed to a post on the front porch.  Ghosts must have walked there last Tuesday night, waiting for the President’s carriage to roll up the side drive after the opening performance at the Auditorium.  The night passed, however, with nothing to disturb the pigeons that roost under the canopy at the stately side entrance but a stray dog or perhaps a derelict looking for a place to sleep.”


From an original sketch by Jack Simmerling, 1974

The house fell to the wrecker’s ball two years later, in 1969.  Today the site is part of a large townhouse development known as Michigan Avenue Gardens, constructed in 1998.  Peck’s house may be gone, but his greatest achievement – the Auditorium – is his lasting and enduring legacy to his beloved city of Chicago.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Simmerling Gallery Opens


On Monday December 1, 2014, more than 100 people gathered in the coach house of Glessner House Museum to celebrate the opening of the John J. ‘Jack’ Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History.  Three generations of the Simmerling family were on hand to welcome guests, some of whom came from as far as New York to be present. 

Simmerling family members in the new gallery

The event opened with a festive reception where guests from all facets of Jack’s life gathered to share memories of Jack, on what would have been his 79th birthday.  Guests travelled from Blue Island where he was born and raised, Beverly/Morgan Park where he lived and owned The Heritage Gallery for more than 50 years, and Ogden Dunes where he maintained a summer resident.  Representatives from the Ridge Historical Society, Beverly Art Center, Smith Village, Smith Senior Living, Historic Pullman Foundation, and the Beverly Art Walk were all on hand, showing the breadth of Jack’s community involvement and the high regard in which he was held by all who knew him.

Bill Tyre, Executive Director and Curator of Glessner House Museum, opened the program, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who once said “What a man does for himself dies with him.  What he does for his community lives long after he is gone,” noting how the quote could well have been written with Jack in mind.  He recounted how Jack became fascinated with Prairie Avenue when just a young teenager and how he could see beyond the dingy facades of the surviving houses and clearly picture what the street had been in its prime in the late 19th century.  Bill shared stories of R. W. Eyster, a dear friend and mentor to Jack, and Herma Clark, long time columnist for the Chicago Tribune, both of whom were major influences on Jack in his formative years. 


A very special guest for the evening was Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago.  Jack and Tim shared a close bond, and often said that they were twins separated at birth, given their similar passion for Chicago history and trying to preserve it however they could.  He recounted their many visits together and how they were truly kindred spirits.

After Tim spoke, two of Jack’s daughters, Mary and Meg, shared stories of their introduction to Prairie Avenue, with endless Sunday drives up and down Prairie and Calumet, their father retelling all of his favorite stories about the houses and the residents who had lived there.  They pointed out how the event was not really an opening, but a homecoming, as the treasured pieces of these homes that their father had carefully salvaged were finally back home on Prairie Avenue for all to see, along with his incredible collection of paintings and pen and ink sketches depicting all of his favorite houses.


The current gallery is a temporary space measuring just under 300 feet, and containing highlights from Jack’s vast collection.  The long-term vision of the museum is to convert a 1,250 foot space over the coach house into a much large permanent gallery where the full collection can be put on display.  Architects Krueck + Sexton have drawn up plans for the new gallery, projected to cost $422,000, with another $50,000 needed for artifact and art conservation and the construction of custom display cases and mounts.


Architects renderings of the proposed permanent
gallery, courtesy Krueck + Sexton Architects

The fundraising campaign received a welcome boost with the announcement of the inaugural gift to the new permanent gallery.  Jim Blauw and Krista Grimm, long-time friends of Jack, presented the museum with a check for $5,000 in memory of their dear friend, and to help ensure that his collection and memory would always be preserved at Glessner House Museum.


After the presentation was complete, Simmerling family members and selected guests travelled up to the second floor where Jack’s wife of 55 years, Margie, assisted by her granddaughter Eliza, cut the red ribbon officially opening the gallery.  Guests then spent the remainder of the evening marveling at the collection of objects – from tiles and carved wood mouldings to oil paintings and buildings models created by Jack.  One of the items that received the most attention was a hand painted poster announcing talks of Old Chicago to be given by 16-year-old Jack Simmerling in 1952.


The evening came to a close with attendees sharing more stories of Jack as artist, story teller, historian, and friend.  Although Jack is longer with us, the event showed that many continue to carry Jack in their hearts, and the new gallery at Glessner House Museum will ensure that his irreplaceable contributions in preserving Prairie Avenue will always be available for present and future generations to enjoy.


TOURS
Special one-hour tours of the gallery led by Bill Tyre will be offered at 10:00am on Saturdays December 13, 20, and 27.  Cost is $10 per person, $8 for museum members, with all proceeds going toward the new permanent gallery.  Prepaid reservations are required, call 312-326-1480.  Additional gallery tours will be scheduled on a regular basis beginning in early 2015.

DONATIONS

For those interested in making a gift to the John J. ‘Jack’ Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History, please click here to download a donation form.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jack Simmerling - 1951

"Jack Simmerling Jr., Blue Island, works on one of the
many paintings he has done of old Chicago houses."
(Tribune photo by William C. Loewe)

In anticipation of the opening of the John J. ‘Jack’ Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History on Monday December 1, 2014, we look back 63 years to 1951, when Jack Simmerling was just 15 years old.  On October 14, 1951, the Chicago Sunday Tribune ran a cover story about Jack in their Neighborhood Section.  The article included the photo shown above, photos of seven of Jack’s paintings (two of which will be displayed in the new gallery), and a lengthy article, reprinted below.  It is most interesting to note how fully developed Jack’s passion for old houses was at this young age, and what a prolific artist he had already become.

NOTE:  Due to overwhelming response, the opening celebration on December 1st is now sold out.  However, special one-hour tours of the Simmerling Gallery will be offered at 10:00am on the following Saturdays – December 13, 20, and 27.  Tickets are $10.00 and prepaid reservations to 312-326-1480 are required as group size is limited to 15.  Additional tours will be scheduled in 2015, check the website, www.glessnerhouse.org for more details.

Youthful Artist of Blue Island Preserves Flavor of Old Chicago Houses on Canvas

Young Artist is Authority on City’s Gay Days

Puts Vanished Splendor Into Old Homes

by Gordon Winkler

On first meeting Jack Simmerling Jr. of Blue Island it is not easy to believe that he is becoming an authority on the Victorian era.  Jack is 15, likes to swim and fish, and his favorite article of apparel is his Blue Island High school sweater.

One usually associates those whose interests are steeped in the ‘90s with museum curators or sentimental old timers who wistfully remember the lush way of life.  But in the last two years this high school youth has been making a study of Victorian life and architecture in Chicago.

Castle Makes Impression

Jack’s interest in the era began when he and his mother visited the famed Potter Palmer estate in Lake Shore dr. just before it was razed to make way for an apartment building.  “I was tremendously impressed by the splendor of the old castle and felt that paintings of the structure should be made.”

Jack, who has painted since he was able to hold a brush – he won a first award in a state contest sponsored by the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1948 – began to reproduce the building on canvas.  He spent many days at the Lake Shore dr. site making sketches.  His project, so far as the Potter Palmer mansion was concerned, was not limited to one picture.

Jack has a series of five paintings which show stages of the castle’s demolition.  His interest in old homes, whetted by the Potter Palmer house, made him move on to the Cyrus McCormick mansion in nearby Rush Street.  “In order to obtain the true color of the building and even preserve some of it, I pulverized some bricks from the house and mixed the dust with my paint,” Jack said.

Since then Jack has painted dozens of old Chicago homes.  Many of the paintings have been done from photographs of houses which have been razed; others have been painted from the homes themselves.

Must Imagine Scenes

Jack, who recently began lecturing on the subject of old Chicago homes, tells his audiences that in almost all cases his paintings are his own impressions of how these homes appeared in the days of lavish parties and posh living.  “When I am able to paint from the actual house it is usually in a state of disrepair and I have to put in what I feel the house actually looked like,” he said.

While his paintings lack the preciseness of an architect’s rendering, Jack has done painstaking research on the houses so his reproductions will resemble as much as possible the originals.

He can talk about the famed Mikado ball held before the turn of the century in the Marshall Field home in Prairie av. with as much authority as he can discuss the architecture of the period.  His interest in the houses has branched off into a study of their interiors and he is now working on a cardboard model of the rooms of the McCormick house complete with chandeliers, inlaid floors, and hand carved mantels.

“I can’t tell you the number of days he has spent roaming around that house,” his mother said.

Jack also haunts old homes being razed.  Wrecking crews have become accustomed to his requests for stained glass windows, mantelpieces, and other items.  The Simmerling basement is becoming cluttered with such objects.

The young artist plans to take some courses at the Art Institute soon, and after high school he hopes to go on to the University of Chicago.  “I am not sure what I want to do eventually,” he said.  “Right now I think I would like to be a newspaper reporter.”


Fortunately for all of us, Jack soon abandoned his idea of becoming a newspaper reporter (although he remained an incredible storyteller), devoting his full efforts to become an accomplished and, in time, nationally-recognized artist.  The new Simmerling Gallery at Glessner House Museum will showcase selected artworks in oil, watercolor and pen and ink, along with architectural fragments from some of the great homes of Prairie Avenue, personally salvaged by Jack Simmerling in his quest to preserve the Victorian era he saw rapidly disappearing before his eyes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Walden: Cyrus McCormick Jr's Lake Forest Estate


On November 8, 1914, John Glessner made the following entry in his wife’s journal about their visit to the Lake Forest home of Cyrus McCormick Jr.:

“Frances and Emily came last Sunday just as we were starting to Lake Forest by motor.  Mrs. McCormick had telephoned that her chauffeur would meet us at farther edge of Fort Sheridan and convoy us to her house.  On arrival we were first taken around Lake Forest somewhat, then dinner where we met Mrs. McCormick the elder, and Dr. McDonald, editor of Toronto.  After dinner we were taken down the ravine to the Lake and then to Harold’s great house (Villa Turicum), all splendid even in its put away clothes.  Mr. and Mrs. McCormick were very attentive and hospitable, the meal was elaborate and their lives seem complicated, or rather their method of living.  The day was very pleasant.”

The North Shore home of McCormick and his wife Harriet was known as Walden, the name inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, detailing his two years of simple living amidst natural surroundings at Walden Pond.  Although the McCormicks embraced the idea of “simple” living, their property encompassed more than 100 acres, and was generally regarded as the finest landscaped estate in all of Lake Forest.  It was situated along the shore of Lake Michigan immediately north of what is now Westleigh Road and Harold McCormick’s Villa Turicum. 

Looking southwest across the estate, Walden at center,
Villa Turicum at upper left

The main house, a large yet informal structure, was designed in 1896 by architect Jarvis Hunt in the shingle style, to blend into its natural surroundings.  Hunt had come to Chicago to work on the World’s Columbian Exposition, and later designed the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.  He was the nephew of Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of both the Marshall Field and John Borden houses in Chicago, as well as homes for the Vanderbilts in New York, Newport, and Asheville, NC. 


The extraordinary grounds of Walden were the design of landscape architect Warren Manning, who also came to Chicago for the Exposition while working for Frederick Law Olmsted.  Manning worked closely with Harriet McCormick, who studied botany at Lake Forest College and later helped found both the Lake Forest Garden Club and the Garden Club of America.  




The site, with its dramatic deep ravine provided ample opportunity for expressing Manning’s ideas on landscape design and he returned annually for the next 40 years to direct changes to the landscape as it evolved over time.


Cyrus McCormick Jr. was the eldest son of Cyrus McCormick, and assumed the presidency of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company at the death of his father in 1884; Cyrus Jr. was just 25 years old at the time.  He held the position until 1902 when McCormick’s firm, John Glessner’s firm, and three others merged to form International Harvester at which time the two men went from being competitors to officers of the new corporation.  McCormick Jr. shared the Glessners’ love of music and is credited with bringing Prokofiev to the United States.   His city house was located at 50 E. Huron in an area then known as “McCormickville” for the number of residences occupied by members of the family.  In 1914, the year that the Glessners visited Walden, McCormick purchased the former Patterson house at 20 E. Burton Place, designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1893, and later enlarged by David Adler for McCormick.

Harriet Hammond McCormick married Cyrus in 1889 and quickly made a name for herself by insisting on improving the conditions of the workers at her husband’s factory.  In addition to this important work in promoting industrial welfare, she became an active suffragette, and a leader in the work of the Y.W.C.A., the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, and the Visiting Nurse Association.  Her organizational affiliations included the Fortnightly and the Colonial Dames, both of which counted Mrs. Glessner among their membership.  


After her death in 1921, the Y.W.C.A. constructed the Harriet Hammond McCormick Memorial Building at 1001 N. Dearborn (demolished 2005).

The year before the Glessners visited, the house was significantly expanded by Schmidt, Garden and Martin, working with Lawrence Buck.  The image of the house at the top of the article was taken shortly after that project was completed. 

Cyrus McCormick Jr. died in 1936 (the same year as John Glessner).  His second wife Alice Holt McCormick had the main house demolished in 1955, but several elements of the original estate survive.  


One of these, known as the Ravello, is a terraced overlook near the southeast corner of the original property, inspired by a visit that Cyrus and Harriet McCormick made to Ravello, a town above the Amalfi coast in Italy.  The terrace remains, now juxtaposed with a modernist house constructed in 1960.


Another structure to survive is the dramatic bridge over the ravine, the design of which was conceived by Cyrus McCormick Jr.  The bridge is supported atop a huge arch with supports radiating like spokes on a great wheel, and would have been crossed by visitors entering the estate on their way to the main house. 


A third survivor of the original estate is a charming Japanese-inspired teahouse, constructed in the 1920s for Alice Holt McCormick.  The architect was Dwight Perkins who created an authentic teahouse substituting the traditional bamboo walls with glass and wood.  It was acquired in the 1950s by a descendant of C. D. Peacock, who hired architect I. W. Coburn to convert the structure into a home, adding a large addition and utilizing the teahouse as a “great room” or enlarged living room. 

To learn more about Walden, follow this link to two excellent articles by Arthur Miller, recently retired archivist and librarian for Special Collections at Lake Forest College:

Further information on the estate can also be found in Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest: Architecture and Landscape Design 1856-1940, co-authored by Kim Coventry, Daniel Meyer, and Arthur Miller in 2003.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Harriet Rees House Moved


The long awaited move of the landmark Harriet F. Rees house at 2110 S. Prairie Avenue was completed on November 11 and 12, 2014.  A large crowd of curious onlookers and neighbors gathered in the cold and rain to watch the relocation of what is believed to be the heaviest house ever moved in U.S. history.

Months of preparation went into planning every last detail of moving the 762 ton house approximately 400 north to its new site at 2017 S. Prairie Avenue.  The project was overseen by Bulley & Andrews, a highly regarded Chicago firm founded in 1891, just three years after the Rees house was built.  Wolfe House and Building Movers performed the move of the house, with Iron Workers, Machinery Movers, Riggers & Machinery Erectors Local #136 providing the necessary labor.

The Rees house was the last surviving mansion on the 2100 block of Prairie Avenue and measures 25 feet wide, 72 feet high, and 95 feet long.  The house was lifted from its foundation into a protective steel-beam cage and transported on 29 massive motorized dollies.  The total weight of the house with its rolling hydraulic dollies and steel frame was 1,045 tons.  (By comparison, the Clarke House Museum, moved in 1977, weighed a mere 120 tons).  On day one, the house was moved north to Cullerton Street where the dollies were all repositioned.  On day two, the house was reversed and slowly turned 90 degrees onto its new site.  This was the most challenging part of the move, with the house and its exoskeleton clearing the adjacent structures by just inches.  Now that the house is in position, the dollies will be removed, the foundation walls completed, and the steel framing and wood cribbing all removed.

The move attracted major media attention, including all major Chicago TV stations, several newspapers, and numerous radio stations and blogs.  Total cost of the move was over $8 million, including nearly $2 million to acquire the new lot.


The relocation will make room for the McCormick Place Entertainment District, which will include a 10,000-seat event center on the block bounded by Prairie Avenue, 21st Street, Indiana Avenue, and Cermak Road.

DAY ONE


New site with wood cribbing completely filling
the basement to temporarily support the house







DAY TWO






























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