Friday, June 19, 2009

The House of Tomorrow

I recently attended the NeoCon World's Furniture Market in Chicago, and on the way back to Ohio my wife Dominica and I stopped at the Dunes along the East side of Lake Michigan. I was reminded of a mystery I had started to investigate a few years back in an attempt to find out more about "The House of Tomorrow", created for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago as one of several concept homes. The architect for the "The House of Tomorrow" was George Fred Keck. My personal connection to the home is that the interior designer of the home was my Great Aunt Mabel Schamberg. She was the inspiration for the "Mabel" collection in my design line (

below: The House of Tomorrow at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.
Entrance to the airplane hangar is at the bottom right.

I had wondered if there were any pictures of Mabel's interior design work and what had happened to the home after the Fair.

below: How the home looks today. It was moved following the World's Fair to the other side of Lake Michigan in an attempt to develop a luxury retreat area for the residents of Chicago near Michigan City, Indiana.(For an excellent summary of the homes from the Fair and their move to Indiana see the website link within
that will bring you to a PDF file:)

Judith Collins and Al Nash; Preserving Yesterday’s View of Tomorrow
- The Chicago World’s Fair Houses
and from their article:

"After the close of the Fair in the fall of 1934, five of the houses were sold to Chicago real estate developer Robert Bartlett. He brought them by barge and truck to the Indiana dunes, hoping that these and 10 other structures relocated from the World’s Fair would entice buyers to his resort community of Beverly Shores, IN. ... In the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, he promoted
the resort with its theater, restaurant, and golf course as part of the American dream. Chauffeur-driven Packards picked up dream seekers at the Beverly Shores railroad station.
Bartlett intended to furnish the five World’s Fair houses, open them to the public, and sell them starting in October 1935. However, his dreams were never fulfilled. By 1938, only one house —the House of Tomorrow — had been sold. Seasonal renters occupied two houses, and two were vacant. Prospects for the houses and for the development became even bleaker with the approach and outbreak of World War II. By 1946, Bartlett had sold off his interests in the resort; and in1947 the community incorporated as a municipality . . .

The steel and concrete structural system of the house was originally assembled at the Fair site in only 48 hours. Its most prominent feature is the floor to ceiling “curtain wall” of glass used to enclose the second and third floors. Chicago architect George Fred Keck defied mechanical engineers who said that due to the expansive use of glass the house couldn’t be heated. Just the opposite occurred. The predicted amount of winter heat loss was far surpassed by the actual solar heat gain, resulting in the failure of the home’s revolutionary air-conditioning system in the summer. When Bartlett moved the house to Beverly Shores, he replaced the glass walls with operable windows to allow for proper air circulation. Keck later became a leader in developing passive solar heating through research and residential design. . .

The house offered a kitchen with state-of the- art gas appliances 'calculated to bring joy and satisfaction to the housewife' . . . In addition to a garage, it boasted an airplane hanger since futurists in 1933 assumed that every family would have both an automobile and an airplane."

We investigated this area a bit on foot- beautiful beaches and the dunes are eerily quiet and inviting and by car which led us up to nearby Michigan City. I remember as a child taking a boat ride over to Michigan City and spending the night on board in the harbor. The area has many ingredients that could have made it a wonderful tourist destination, being so close to Chicago and yet feeling worlds away. However, planners have permanently (it would seem) sealed Michigan City's fate for the worst.

The downtown is virtually abandoned and rundown despite many cool looking older buildings. There is a strip mall to the East that has all of the typical stores and restaurants. But there are two larger strikes against M.C. that I don't see in every otherwise potentially great tourist destination. 1) There is a prison right in the middle of the town.

and 2) There is this lovely attraction hovering over the town: