Celebrating McCormick House at Elmhurst Art Museum

  • Photo from 1952 showing the exterior of the Robert H. McCormick, Jr. house, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and originally located at 299 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst.

    Photo from 1952 showing the exterior of the Robert H. McCormick, Jr. house, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and originally located at 299 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst. Courtesy Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society

  • The McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

    The McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum

 
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted1/10/2019 3:38 PM

The McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum is like one of those high-concept movies that flashes backward, forward and sideways, undeterred by and unconcerned with temporal boundaries.

The vintage 1952 building has been restored, remodeled, repurposed, changed and changed again over the years. Just where it fits in, in terms of time and space, is difficult to pin down.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Its most recent iteration will remain on display through Jan. 20, a week longer than originally planned, owing to its popularity.

This newest version features the structure's recent emancipation from its physical connection to the museum's main building, revealing its restored facade.

Designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the house was built for Robert Hall McCormick III and his wife, Isabella Gardner, and was originally located on Prospect Avenue a few blocks away from the museum.

"This was a prefab prototype for a development in the Western suburbs," said John McKinnon, the museum's executive director.

The development never materialized. McCormick and Gardner lived in the house until 1959. After renting it to a tenant for several years, the house was sold to former Elmhurst mayor Ray Fick and his wife Mary Ann. It was moved to the museum site in 1994 after the Ficks sold it to the museum foundation in 1991, McKinnon said.

With floor-to-ceiling windows, the squared-off house's front door has been restored, along with a light and a new carport cement pad. Curated by Chicago architect and designer Robert Kleinschmidt, the house currently features holiday décor in a minimalist, 1950s-style.

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Newly created abstract art, similar to the style popular in the 1950s, graces the walls.

The living room is appointed with Barcelona chairs, a long, rectangular couch and a square glass coffee table. A bedroom is neatly and economically outfitted with furniture that evokes the 1950s and Mies' aesthetic.

While the house is not an exact replica but an interpretation of the McCormick home, there is a good bit of its original essence remaining.

Pointing to a scale model of the house, McKinnon said, "This was the study. Isabel was a poet. She wrote multiple books of poetry there."

McKinnon said the McCormick House is one of only three houses built by the German architect during his time in the United States. Another is the Farnsworth House in Plano and the third is the Morris Greenwald House in Weston, Connecticut.

Only half of the Elmhurst house exhibit depicts 1950s domesticity through its furniture, décor and architectural detail.

The other half contains an art installation by Elmhurst artist David Wallace Haskins titled "Ascension/Descension." The room is temporarily outfitted with mirrors on the floor and ceiling. Gazing skyward or downward produces the illusion of multiple floors, echoing Mies' celebrated skyscraper designs.

Visitors may don protective booties and walk out onto the mirrored floor to get the full experience.

"It activates it in a different way, vertically," McKinnon said. "He's putting this house in conversation with Mies' skyscrapers."

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