The news officially broke yesterday that Landmarks Illinois would cease to be the operating partner for the Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site and one of the great modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s most significant buildings. Landmarks Illinois joined John Bryan and the National Trust in buying the Farnsworth House at Sotheby’s auction house in December, 2003, thus saving it from a potentially devastating move away from its riverine location in Plano, Illinois.
In 2003, the National Trust was already well aware of the problems associated with operating house museums, having held a conference entitled “Are There Too Many House Museums” 18 months earlier. The historic significance of this conference has only swelled in the ensuing seven years, although arguably the Fox River has swelled even more, coming within inches of the house in 2007 and inundating it in 2008, a mere 12 years after the last 100-year flood. Here’s the wardrobe, where you can see the flood damage – and this is only a 12-year old replacement from 1996. Continue Reading
Well, I took my grad students to the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and Director Lisa Lee did it again – wowed everyone with her enthusiasm and creativity in reimagining what a house museum is. Not that Jane Addams’ Hull House was ever a typical house museum – preserved under duress during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the house was sort of a shrine to Addams herself and the institution she created, which still exists elsewhere. It was also subject to an absolutely bizarre restoration – you can see my 2003 research on the subject at http://tigger.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/urbanexp/main.cgi?file=new/show_doc.ptt&doc=834&chap=32.
Gaylord Building 2004
During the National Preservation Conference for the last many years, Fridays are the busiest day, beginning at 7:15 AM with breakfast with the Site Council Chairs and Trust President Dick Moe. I represent both the Gaylord Building and the Farnsworth House. The former has a decent endowment while the latter does not, and of course the economic climate was at the top of the agenda for all 29 of the Trust sites.
This is always a fascinating meeting, especially since the Kykuit Conference, where the Trust sites took the “beyond the velvet ropes” step, encouraging Boards and staff at historic sites to go beyond the “museum” model for historic houses. This is of course a great interest of mine as readers of this blog will know. I have been proposing to the Trust for several years the idea of a national database of all historic sites that could be used for corporate meetings, institutional retreats, filming, and a whole variety of events. These things all happen of course on an individual Trust property level, but a national database – perhaps licensed to other sites as well – could be a powerful funding tool. Continue Reading
THE BLOG BELOW IS FROM OCTOBER 2008. The issues described below have been fully and completely resolved and the restored Robie House is MORE open for tours than ever before. FOR CURRENT INFORMATION ON ROBIE HOUSE, GO HERE.
October 2008 blog begins here:
Last week, Blair Kamin reported in the Trib on two of the iconic house museums that draw tourists from all over the world. I am involved, through both Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust, in the Farnsworth House. After the devastating flood last month, tours were abruptly cancelled, even as people arrived in Chicago from every corner of the world to see the house. We gathered, brainstormed, and decided to allow tours again, through the restoration. These tours will cost more – a rare chance to see “Farnsworth House with a black eye” as Landmarks Illinois’ Jim Peters said. Continue Reading
So I took my First Year Program Residential College Research Studio I class to Hull House on Tuesday. I blogged about Hull House in Spring 2007, gushing about how they were reinventing what it meant to be a house museum. Well, it is all true, thanks to Director Lisa Lee and her able staff, now including SAIC HPRES alum Weston Davey. We were there for “Rethinking Soup,” a weekly free soup kitchen-and-discussion session that fills the historic Dining Hall. Two programs on nutrition and food stimulated a participant discussion on everything from vegetarianism to sustainability. Books on the topic and crayons were in easy reach along with whole wheat rolls on the butcher-paper-covered tables. Several of my students spoke up during the discussion, which was excellent of them.
Our class also had another discussion on immigration, which the Hull House people set up via a visual language game – about 40 photos on the wall meant to start a discussion on immigration. Our group got into it well, and the students have a lot of such experiences, since many of their parents and even some of them were, in fact, recent immigrants. We of course toured the house, saw the latest in interpretation, which still includes the excellent public-participation component where visitors are asked to choose which of three captions should adorn the portrait of Jane Addams’ longtime companion Mary Rozet Smith. Continue Reading
It felt like I was crisscrossing the northern half of the state last week, and in a sense, I was. I did two tours for the Art Institute on Wednesday and Thursday to LaSalle, to visit the incomparable Hegeler-Carus mansion, an 1874 Italianate-cum-Second Empire extravaganza that never left the family, and to ride the new historic canal boat on the I & M Canal at Lock 14. The floods of almost two weeks earlier prevented us from riding on Wednesday and curtailed our ride Thursday.
All photos courtesy Landmarks Illinois, 2008.
The biggest news over the weekend was the incredible flooding throughout the state and the two feet of water and mud that soaked the interior of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano. I am doubly responsible for this landmark, which is owned by the National Trust (I’m on the Board) and operated by Landmarks Illinois (I’m on the Board). The immediate hit is coming to Landmarks Illinois, which will lose $60,000 in tour income in the coming months – the height of the tourist season. It is tragic that this disaster occurred at all, doubly tragic that it occurred at the start of the two best tourism months in Northeastern Illinois – September and October. Continue Reading
What will 2008 bring for preservation? More nasty facade projects? Fewer teardowns thanks to the meltdown of the housing market? I welcome your input and will share with you the SAIC HPRES plans for 2008, which are shaping up:
First, I am off to India along with some of our other faculty for a preservation (building conservation) conference in Ahmedabad in two weeks – less than two weeks actually. I will give a keynote on Preservation in the U.S. and present case studies of green preservation (River Forest Women’s Club) and design issues (Milton Historical Society).
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance and a number of organizations are planning events, including the exciting new exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, curated by SAIC alum Kate Keleman called Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage? I am also moderating a panel of community preservationists in April on the subject, and we just started talking about a symposium in September on the history of preservation in Chicago. The City will kick off with some lectures this Spring, including a big name (pending) in May for Great Places and Spaces. Continue Reading
Friday night I went to see Rebecca Keller’s installation at the Glessner House on Prairie Avenue. The H.H. Richardson masterpiece is considered the progenitor of the modern house, and the interior features furnishings and art – 80% of which the Glessner’s actually had in the house. This makes it a step above the average house museum, which has “period” furnishings and is sort of an artificial time capsule.
Glessner House is a real time capsule, but that is also problematic, as Keller’s installation shows. She specifically attacked the idea of domestic service that made large 19th century houses practical, and also the issues of immmigration and gender, since most of the house servants were “Bridgets” – young Irish women. Continue Reading
This week I am participating in a meeting at Jane Addams’ Hull House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to determine how the site should be interpreted in the future.
In the 1960s, when they built the University, Hull House, founded by Addams in 1889, was to be another casualty of the clear-cut neighborhood, but then Senator Paul Douglas (the guy who saved the Indiana Dunes) pushed to save Hull House as a memorial to Addams’ pioneering social work. Douglas had been a Hull House resident. The House was saved, along with a Dining Hall, but the rest of the 13-building Hull House complex was demolished. Continue Reading