In 1933, the second Chicago World’s Fair opened under the theme “Century of Progress.” Displaying everything from new car designs to babies in incubators, the exposition celebrated the possibilities of scientific and technological innovation, delivering a dose of optimism to a nation stricken by the Great Depression. One of the star attractions of the fair was the “House of Tomorrow,” a futuristic residence built of glass and steel designed by the architect George Fred Keck, which, as Jay Koziarz reports for Curbed Chicago, is now available for sublease.
Officials in Indiana, where the House of Tomorrow was transported after the fair, are inviting “interested parties” to submit proposals for the lease and restoration of the property. Bringing the long-neglected home up to snuff won’t come cheap; the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which declared the House of Tomorrow a National Treasure in 2016, estimates that it will cost between $2.5 and 3 million to get the property up to living standards. But Todd Zeiger, the northern region director of Indiana Landmarks, tells Chicago magazine’s AJ LaTrace that he is confident there will be tenants up to the job.
“We’ve found individuals who not only have a passion for restoring historic homes, but ones who have a particular affinity for the World’s Fair homes,” he says. “Living where the homes are at, it’s an interesting location as well as a unique opportunity to play a part in American architectural history.”
The House of Tomorrow, which World’s Fair visitors could tour for an extra ten cents, was a marvel of avant-garde design. The building boasted 12 sides and was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling “glass curtain walls” on its second and third floors, anticipating the glass houses later made famous by Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. Keck’s home was also set up with amenities that became the standard for many modern houses: a dishwasher—the home featured the first model by General Electric— central air conditioning, a garage door that opened with the push of a button and an “iceless” refrigerator. Other elements of Keck’s design, admittedly, did not quite take off; the first floor included an airplane hangar because, according to the National Park Service, “World’s Fair optimists assumed every future family would own an airplane.”
Once the fair was over, the House of Tomorrow and four other exhibit houses were relocated to Beverly Shores in Indiana. The properties were privately owned until the 1960s and ’70s, when they were acquired by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (now the Indiana Dunes National Park). The houses subsequently fell into disrepair. Hoping to revive the properties, Indiana Landmarks leased the homes from the National Park Service in the early 2000s, and then subleased four of them to tenants who’ve set about restoring them. The House of Tomorrow remains the lone property badly in need of renovations.
Tenants up to the task of restoring the house will lease it from the National Park Service. Indiana Landmarks envisions it being used as a single-family residence. “[A] family can live here, pay rent, it can be kept up,” Brian Berg, a spokesperson for the organization, tells Frances Brent of Modern Magazine. “It’s not a museum.”
In exchange for their efforts—and dollars—the tenants will be given a 50-year lease on the property, ensuring that they are able to live in the House of Tomorrow for many years into the future.