Dakota Evans Partners with Elmhurst Architecture Firm on Restoration of Famed Mies van der Rohe House

McCormick House pictureMcCormick House is a post-war steel and glass modular home built in 1952, which was purchased by the Elmhurst Art Museum and moved to the museum campus in 1994.  

The largest of three houses in the U.S. built and designed by famed architect and builder Mies van der Rohe, is currently undergoing the first phase of an extensive restoration project to bring it back to its post-war glory.

The structure, called McCormick House, was built in 1952 and originally located at 299 Prospect Avenue in Elmhurst, Illinois. It was purchased by the Elmhurst Art Museum and moved to is present location on the museum campus in 1994. The house is considered a cornerstone of the museum’s collection.

The restoration project was initiated due to considerable paint deterioration on the home’s steel exterior and interior. Damage also resulted from decades of rain falling over the flat roof, which caused large pieces of the building to fall off of the nearly 55-year-old modular pre-fab home.

Dakota Evans Restoration, Inc. based in Palatine, Illinois is the general contractor of the project. Among their tasks are to remove multiple layers of paint (40 Mils thick), in addition to abatement, coating of all interior and exterior surfaces, caulking, window glazing and concrete replacement.

“Dakota Evans is uniquely qualified to work on projects such as this, where specific skills are needed to ensure the integrity of the structure is maintained during the restoration process,” said Sam Miceli, of Dakota Evans Restoration’s coating division. “Safety codes, as well as working in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Restoration are highly important professional skill-sets to possess.”

Elmhurst-based Architecture Studio is leading the restoration project, under the direction of founder Heidi Granke. Among the firm’s areas of expertise are historic preservation, design and planning, and specifically working with dated materials to maintain their historical integrity as they are restored to their original appearance.

Due to the substantial metal surfaces both inside and outside of the structure which were beginning to show rust, Dakota Evans utilized coating techniques required to upgrade the surfaces and prevent further corrosion.

The all glass and steel structure’s architectural significance is that it was a prototype for mass-produced modular housing. The house was inspired by Farnsworth House (1951) in Plano, Illinois, as well as Lake Shore Drive Towers at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago (1951), which also utilized glass and steel materials on the interior and exterior. Use of these materials was a brand new concept in the 1950’s.

In addition to the notable history of the structure itself, there are also stories of former high profile Chicago area residents and others connected to McCormick House.

“The house was originally built for Isabella Gardner, and her third husband, Robert Hall McCormick III, who was the grandson of Robert McCormick, Jr., one of the developers who worked with Mies on Lake Shore Drive Towers,” said Jenny Gibbs, the Elmhurst Art Museum executive director.

Gardner was a critically acclaimed poet, and actress whose social circles included the likes of Orson Welles, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost and other high profile individuals whom she and her husband entertained in the home between 1952 and 1959, Gibbs said. The two ultimately divorced, which caused major gossip among elite social circles in the Chicago area.

Bella, as she was nick named, was also the niece and goddaughter of Isabella Stewart Gardner, who founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.

The first phase of the restoration project is expected to be completed in early May. Later phase projects for the ongoing restoration of McCormick House will include floor replacement, wall reconfiguration and replacement of a post construction kitchen to its original location.

On May 14, Elmhurst Art Museum will host Soiree 2016, which will be entitled ‘Seduction by Design.’ The evening will recreate the Chicago Playboy Club, circa 1960 in conjunction with the exhibit Playboy Architecture 1953-1979. To learn more visit ElmhurstArtMuseum.org/soiree.

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