The House of Tomorrow Today

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The Florida Tropical House (1933)

In the mid-20th century, the United States had its gaze steadfastly fixed on the future. Just look at Tomorrowland in Disneyland, which opened in 1955, with the Space Age quickly on its heels in 1957. Two decades earlier Chicago hosted the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition, a world’s fair with a theme of technological innovation. Among the innovations were five model houses, featuring everything a future citizen of the United States would need: dishwashers, automatic garage doors, air conditioning, and, yes, an airplane hanger. Naturally, some ideas of the future were completely incorrect (not just the airplane hanger). The Cypress Log Cabin was, in fact, a log cabin. But others pushed technological boundaries and led to innovation. The Armco-Ferro House inspired the prefabricated houses made by the Lustron Corporation following World War II and the House of Tomorrow proved that glass houses could, in fact, stay warm in the winter thanks to solar heat gain.

Luckily, seven of these futuristic houses were shipped to Indiana following the Exposition and can be visited today as the Century of Progress Historic District. The houses were moved to the dunes in 1935 by a real estate developer, Robert Bartlett, who dreamed of them becoming part of a resort community on Lake Michigan’s southern shore. Thanks to the Great Depression, this dream failed to materialize. In 1966, the National Park Service took over the area that included Beverly Shores and the homeowners became lessees, but the houses fell into disrepair. In recent years, Indiana Landmarks intervened as an intermediary lessee and added protective covenants, hoping to save the historic houses. So far, it has worked–five of the houses were restored and the House of Tomorrow, with its iconic glass walls, is currently going through restoration (see photo below).

Today the houses live a new life on the bluffs of Indiana dunes. The brilliant pink Florida House quickly became a landmark for boats on Lake Michigan. Cars slow as they pass through the District, taking in the view and perhaps some ideas of the future that once was and inspiration for the future yet to come.

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The House of Tomorrow (1933)
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Wieboldt-Rostone House (1933)

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The Armco-Ferro House (1933)
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The Cypress Log Cabin (1933)

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Sources and Further Reading

Indiana Landmarks on the Century of Progress houses.

More on the houses from the National Park Service, including a page on each of the houses: Wieboldt-Rosetone House, Cypress Log Cabin, Armco-Ferro House, House of Tomorrow, and Florida House.

The Century of Progress Homes from Indiana Dunes Tourism.

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7 thoughts on “The House of Tomorrow Today

  1. I had a friend who lived near Beverly Shores in the mid 80s, and I visited her there and walked the beach. I could well have seen these houses then — but my inner preservationist had not yet awakened and I certainly didn’t notice them!

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  2. Of course, the most traditional in form and least experimental in materials of the houses, the Cypress Log Cabin, has survived the most intact, aided by the fact that cypress is resistant to rot and other forms of deterioration. All the others have required vast amounts of reconstruction. Let’s hear it for tradition!

    Also, you have made a common mistake by inferring that these five houses were the only ones constructed for the Century of Progress International Exposition. Bartlett only relocated five of them. There were originally twelve model houses constructed for the Century of Progress; Frazier and Raftery’s Masonite House and Andrew Rebori’s Common Brick Association Modern House were two standout designs that were not relocated. A shame too, since Rebori’s design was a very odd, extravagant, three-story, hexagonal, brick expressionist tower. But, how would you relocate a three-story brick tower from Chicago to Indiana? An interesting logistical challenge that I suppose was never overcome, at least in an economical manner.

    Of note is that Bartlett also relocated ten buildings from the Exposition’s Colonial Village: Mount Vernon, Old North Church, the Governor’s Mansion, Ben Franklin House, Paul Revere Home, the Wayside Inn, the Village Smith, the House of the Seven Gables, the Wakefield House and the Virginia Tavern. Old North Church is the only survivor of that group. He also relocated the “Modern Country Home” (also referred to as “Model Farm House”) to Beverly Shores. It was never located near the five model homes, and I am not sure whether it still exists.

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    1. Thanks for all this great addition information! My favorite thing about my blog, hands down, is how much I learn from my readers. I also love your point about the log cabin–I admit I thought the cabin was pretty funny but maybe the joke is on us!

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  3. […] 💻 The Century of Progress International Exposition happened in Chicago in 1933, and it featured five futuristic houses. After the expo they were moved to Indiana, where they still stand on the shore of Lake Michigan. Susie Trexler shows them to us. Read The House of Tomorrow Today […]

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