Twenty years ago, the Elmhurst Art Museum gave Mies van der Rohe’s McCormick House a new lease on life. Newly refreshed, this modern gem has even more curb appeal today.
A rendering of the restored 1952 home (Courtesy of Heritage Architecture Studio, LLC and LP Studio Inc.)
For all its vaunted architectural history, Chicago has not always been kind to its past. From Adler & Sullivan’s Stock Exchange to Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, any number of significant structures have bitten the dust due to civic shortsightedness or insurmountable economic realities. And even when efforts are made to salvage noteworthy buildings, good intentions can go awry.
In 1997, the Elmhurst Art Museum incorporated Mies van der Rohe’s 1952 McCormick House into its new facility in the town’s Wilder Park, where it was connected by a walkway to the museum’s low-slung, domestically scaled digs. The two were a good match, but that walkway—while minimally invasive— didn’t allow visitors to appreciate the full profile of the McCormick House. The museum rethought that relationship, and after some careful architectural surgery the two have been separated, and as of June 10 van der Rohe’s little marvel will stand on its own.
Created for developer Robert Hall McCormick III (who, in partnership with Herbert Greenwald, erected the Mies-designed apartments at 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive) and his wife, poet Isabella Gardner, the house is one of three single-family homes the architect built in the United States. With its open plan and simple glass and steel frame, it was also the model for a new type of housing McCormick and Greenwald envisioned for the American suburbs.
“Through restoration, the museum aims to honor and revitalize the original designs by Mies van der Rohe,” says Executive Director John McKinnon, “while better educating and inspiring generations to come.” 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst, 630.834.0202