Courtesy Heritage Architecture Studio and Lp Studio
Courtesy Heritage Architecture Studio and Lp Studio


Completed in 1952, the McCormick House in Elmhurst, Ill., is a one-story, glass-and-steel structure designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for Robert McCormick Jr., his sales agent for 860-880 Lake shore Drive in Chicago, and McCormick's wife, the poet Isabella Gardner. Now part of the Elmhurst Art Museum, the house originally served two purposes: as the family's residence and as a prototype that Mies envisioned for prefabricated, mass-produced, and affordable modular housing that, according to the museum, McCormick was hoping to develop. Of only three residential projects Mies designed in the U.S., this house and the iconic Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., are the only two open to the public. The McCormick House also recalls features that are similar to those seen in the Farnsworth House and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, which were both completed in 1951.

Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum and the Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society
Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum and the Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society

In 1992, the museum bought the house from its last private owners, former Elmhurst mayor Ray Fick and his wife Mary Ann, who lived in the house for nearly 30 years. The entire structure was then relocated to its current location in 1994. Three years after that, the museum added a 15-foot-long hallway, connecting the museum building and the house and partially concealing the house’s original front façade, which was problematic because the museum was roughly indistinguishable from the house's design. "Almost every day, a visitor will be standing in the house and will ask where the house is," said Jenny Gibbs, executive director at the Elmhurst Art Museum, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum
Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum

On June 29, the Elmhurst Art Museum—which has been working on the house’s restoration since last year—announced in a press release that it was planning to unveil the McCormick House’s restored façade on the museum's 20th anniversary ceremony in September. The plan is to tear down the hallway, restore a carport originally located at the entrance, and redo the landscaping. “The decision to connect the house to the museum in 1997 was with Mies’ idea of universal space in mind,” said Gibbs in a press release. “The museum has since evolved its thinking and I am thrilled to lead the charge in unveiling our hidden treasure.” Elmhurst-based restoration company Heritage Architecture Studio and Gibbs will oversee the restoration work being undertaken by Chicago-based Berglund Construction, which is all set to be completed this year. “This restoration will allow visitors to experience and understand the McCormick House in a way that corresponds to its sensibility as a home," said Barry Bergdoll, art curator, professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, and the project adviser, in the museum's press release. The museum has commissioned Bergdoll to work on an upcoming long-term exhibition entitled Mies In Chicago which will open the following year.