Nation’s Leading Historic Preservation Organization Names The House of Tomorrow a National Treasure
Plan to restore the Mid-Century icon will serve as national model
Widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential houses in modern architectural design, the House of Tomorrow was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with Indiana Landmarks. Despite its recognition as a forerunner of both Mid-Century Modern home design and the solar house movement, the House of Tomorrow is currently empty and deteriorating. National Treasure designation, along with a plan for restoring it, could give new life to the House of Tomorrow while also becoming a national model for how to preserve thousands of other historic properties across the country.
Taking place in the depths of the Great Depression, the World’s Fair drew 39 million to see how advancements in science and technology could improve life across the globe. Designed by noted Chicago architect George Fred Keck, the House of Tomorrow was a popular attraction at the 1933-34 Century of Progress Exhibition at the World’s Fair, where more than 1.2 million people paid an extra 10 cents to see inside the house. In his design for the House of Tomorrow, Keck underscored the theme by showing people a new way to live in what the media called “America’s First Glass House.”
“At a time when millions of Americans were out of work and the nation was facing enormous economic challenges, the House of Tomorrow was a source of hope for a better future,” said David J. Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “George Keck’s groundbreaking design, along with futuristic household amenities at the time like “iceless” refrigerators and an innovative open floor plan, reflected a central theme of the Century of Progress—the power of science and technology to dramatically improve people’s lives.”
Architecturally, the House of Tomorrow was among the first residential buildings to employ a glass curtain-wall structure, predating both Mies van der Rohe’s renowned Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House by many years. It was also among the first buildings in America to use passive solar energy as a sustainable heating and cooling technique. Keck’s design included one element that remains futuristic—an airplane hangar—also with a push button door—for the small family airplane Keck envisioned every family would own in the future.
- When the fair closed, Chicago developer Robert Bartlett used barges and trucks to ship the House of Tomorrow (along with other Century of Progress structures) to Beverly Shores, Indiana, a town he was attempting to develop as a vacation destination for Chicagoans. Five Century of Progress houses were sold and remained in private hands until the land became part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a unit of the National Park Service.
- Indiana Landmarks is raising money to fully restore the House of Tomorrow, which the organization is leasing from the National Park Service. The house will then be subleased for residential use. At a time when the National Park Service is facing a maintenance backlog of approximately $12 billion, creative new approaches to maintaining cultural resources in our nation’s parks are essential.
- “Our goal is to preserve this outstanding building and raise awareness and appreciation of the House of Tomorrow, the architect George Fred Keck, and the Century of Progress, both regionally and nationally, and to raise the money to make this possible” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “To guide us through the restoration design process, we have enlisted the services of Chicago architect and former Indiana Landmarks board member Bill Latoza. Although the timetable will depend on fundraising, we hope to get the restoration underway by spring 2017,” he adds.
The National Treasure designation will raise the profile of this iconic place, connecting the story of the House of Tomorrow to the Trust’s national network of people who are passionate about Modernist architecture.
“By declaring it a National Treasure, we have the opportunity to save the House of Tomorrow while also honoring its legacy of innovation, while serving as a national model for the preservation of thousands of important historic National Park Service buildings throughout the nation,” added Brown.
About National Treasures
The National Trust for Historic Preservation mobilizes its more than 60 years of expertise and resources to protect a growing portfolio of National Treasures that are threatened buildings; neighborhoods, communities, and landscapes that stand at risk across the country. Our National Treasures program demonstrates the value of preservation by taking direct action to protect these places and promote their history and significance.