A tour of the Century of Progress homes
Photos and article by Laura Niemiec
The Century of Progress Home Tour is hosted each fall by Indiana Landmarks in partnership with the Dunes National Park Association and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Tickets for the tour are sold in advance and sell out very quickly. The tours run every 20 minutes from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (CST) and leaves from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center. From there, the attendees are shuttled to the Century of Progress Architectural District in Beverly Shores. Be advised, no interior photos are allowed as these are private residences.
For those not familiar with the homes, here is a brief history of how they arrived in northwest Indiana. At the peak of the Great Depression, the 1933 World’s Fair – A Century of Progress Exposition – opened in Chicago. The fair was deemed as an “exposition of science and industrial development”. One of the exhibitions at the fair was Homes of Tomorrow which consisted of futuristic homes with new building materials, designs, and technology. At close of the fair, in 1934, a Northwest Indiana real estate development by the name of Robert Bartlett purchased 5 of these homes and relocated them across the lake in Beverly Shores, Indiana. The five homes were the Armco-Ferro House, the House of Tomorrow, the Cypress Log Cabin, the Florida Tropical House, and the Wieboldt-Rostone House. Four were barged across Lake Michigan but the Cypress Log Cabin was dismantled and transported by truck. Bartlett thought the high profile homes would be good advertisement for this new residential development.
As time passed, the beach took its toll on the homes – sand, surf and wind battered the houses and some were eventually abandoned. Even later on, vandals destroyed them further. The National Park Service took over the area in 1966, making it part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It wasn’t until 1986 that the homes made it onto the National Registry of Historic Places. In 1995, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana placed them on the list of the 10 most endangered places and, after discussion with the NPS, the lease program for restoration was created. In addition to taking on the costs of the restorations in accordance with historical standards, the homes are required to be open to the public once a year. While renovation is still ongoing at many of the homes, all but one are currently inhabitable.
The first stop on the tour is the Armco-Ferro Home. This home is an all-metal design with corrugated steel making up most of structure and porcelain panels on the exterior. Unfortunately, this design didn’t hold up to time as the panels failed, the metal rusted, and water leaked into the interior walls. Today the house is getting back to its former glory with a new foundation and a full basement to boot.
The only home on the tour that is still in a state of disarray is the House of Tomorrow. This home had floor to ceiling windows, an open floor plan and an attached garage with an automatic door – AND an airplane hangar. Imagine all of that 85 years ago. Chicago architect George Fred Keck was an innovator ahead of his time. Today, the home is being restored by Indiana Landmarks. If you would like to help with a donation towards the restoration you can do that here.
Many years ago, upon first seeing the Florida Tropical House in its Flamingo Pink glory, I fell in love with it but that was before I toured the Cypress Log House and Guest House. This home is a favorite amongst the 5, if only for the massive arched stone fireplace in the great room. Interestingly, this home was not designed as part of the exhibit but as a home for a company representative and his wife to live to provide 24-hour security. During the restoration, approval from the powers that be allowed for an addition to connect the main home and the guest house. Like the Armco-Ferro, this home also has a new foundation and a full basement.
The Florida Tropical House was sponsored by the state of Florida to entice folks to come down to Florida to buy land and build homes. The architect was a Muncie native, Robert Law Weed. Weed created the home with Art Deco style with a Flamingo Pink exterior. The vibrant hue has long been a beacon for Lake Michigan mariners. When the lease program was announced, this home received over 300 calls from people wanting the “free house”. The home required nearly 200 foundations piers to level it as it was leaning towards the lake. That, along with repairing a leaky roof, sagging overhangs and a fresh coat of paint in the original shade rounded out the major updates.
Last, but most certainly not least, is the Wieboldt-Rostone House with its wonderful wall of windows that look out towards the lake leading the viewer to believe they are watching a living painting. This home was built to showcase a new experimental material called Rostone. The material had failed by 1950 and was replaced by the residents with Perma-Stone. Within 30 years, the Perma-Stone, too, was failing. Current sublessee’s, Ross Gambril and his son Joe, were able to obtain the original blueprints from the Rostone Corporation. This enabled them to stay close to the original aesthetic as they installed new masonry panels during the restoration. Some of the Rostone still exists in the home around front entrance and in the entryway.
For more information on the homes check out Indiana Landmarks and keep an eye out for the 2019 tour announcement.
– Indiana Landmarks: https://www.indianalandmarks.org/2016/09/century-of-progress-homes-indiana/
– Saving a Century of Progress by Robin A. Carlascio and Theresa K. Badovich
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