The 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition might be the most famous World's Fair, notable for its architecture ("The White City"), the Ferris wheel, zippers, and an infamous assassination. But while the Beaux Arts architecture of "The White City" nodded to the great classical settlements of history, Chicago's 1933 World's Fair, A Century of Progress, looked to a future unencumbered by the past and defined by technological innovation, scientific discovery, and modern design.
Today on claass HAUS, we take a look at the Century of Progress Homes, located in Beverly Shores, Indiana.
One of the most popular exhibits of the 1933 World's Fair, the Homes of Tomorrow, included a group of futuristic houses demonstrating new modern conveniences, creative building techniques, and innovative materials. The homes promoted many fresh ideas for ‘modern living’- mechanization, the integration of indoor and outdoor living space, and steel as a construction material, all of which remain an important part of contemporary building practices. In the midst of the Great Depression, millions of people could visit the Homes of Tomorrow to experience the future of residential architecture and imagine the considerable possibilities of new conveniences and technology.
After the World's Fair ended, real estate developer Robert Bartlett purchased six residences included in the popular exhibit- the House of Tomorrow, the Armco-Ferro Mayflower House, the Cypress Log Cabin and Guest House, the Florida Tropical House, the Wieboldt-Rostone House, and the Universal House’s Country Home. Bartlett bought the buildings at just a fraction of their original cost as part of an elaborate promotional scheme to spark development on his new Lake Michigan resort. In 1935, the six houses (some moved by barge) relocated to Beverly Shores, Indiana, about 55 miles southeast of Chicago.
So it's Beverly Shores, where for more than eighty years, the Century of Progress homes have weathered the elements as part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Following years of neglect, four out of the five surviving structures have been successfully restored. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the homes stand as some of the most creative and innovative buildings in the history of modern architecture in the United States.
House of Tomorrow
The most famous of the Century of Progress residences, the House of Tomorrow, stands as a three-story, dodecagonal residence with a steel frame, glass walls, minimal ornament, and a flexible plan. Chicago architect George F. Keck designed the house based on the premise that most families in the future would own an airplane, and the original design included an airplane hangar on the first floor. The forward-thinking house also maintained an experimental solar-based heating and cooling system and an early dishwasher.
Although Robert Bartlett replaced some of the home’s original features after its relocation, the House of Tomorrow still conveys the hopeful architectural ideas and scientific optimism emphasized during the 1933 World’s Fair. In 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the House of Tomorrow a National Treasure, and the structure is currently undergoing a $2 million rehabilitation.
The Armco-Ferro Mayflower House
Robert Smith, Jr. of Cleveland designed the Armco-Ferro Mayflower House as an easily mass-produced and affordable home. Boasting a revolutionary steel construction system (corrugated, enamel-clad steel panels bolted together), the house resembled a typical cardboard box and proved easy to replicate. As a durable and inexpensive design, the Armco-Ferro Mayflower House provided an innovative solution to the growing need for affordable housing. The enameled steel panels produced by the Ferro Enamel Corporation even served as inspiration for the prefabricated Lustron homes developed after World War II.
Cypress Log Cabin and Guest House
Sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturer’s Association of Jacksonville, Florida, the Cypress Log Cabin demonstrated the many uses of cypress in residential design. Constructed of traditional materials, the cabin and its intentionally rustic look provided an alternative to the modern methods and design elements of the other Century of Progress homes.
Florida Tropical House
As a showcase to encourage tourism, the Florida Tropical House promoted the state’s ideal tropical climate in its indoor/outdoor living spaces, concrete stucco, and bright pink exterior. Miami architect Robert Law Weed designed the house in the Moderne style for the wealthier set spending winters in Florida. The house design also incorporated a flat roof modeled after an ocean liner’s storm deck and later served as a universal landmark for Lake Michigan mariners.
Indiana architect Walter Scholer designed the Wieboldt-Rostone House as a showcase for a new artificial limestone material. Rostone, composed of shale, limestone, and alkali, could be easily produced within a factory setting. Precast panels could be prefabricated, shipped to site, and bolted to a steel frame. Billed as a house that would never need repairs, Rostone proved much less durable than expected, and the entire house was reclad in permastone during the 1950s.
Universal House’s Country Home
The Universal House‘s Country Home was the only Century of Progress residence moved to an inland location (rather than the lakeshore). The home was later destroyed by fire.
The five remaining homes are part of the Beverly Shores/Century of Progress Homes Historic District, located within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The houses are open to the public for tours once every October. You can buy Saving a Century of Progress, a book by the National Park Service here.
Have a great weekend and make sure to support your National Parks!
Image at top of page- Pursell, Weimer, Artist. Chicago world's fair. A century of progress, 1833 to 1933 / Weimer Pursell. Chicago Illinois, 1933. [Chicago: Neely Printing Co] Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2004665785.
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