In 1952, the renowned modern architect Mies van der Rohe designed a home for Robert Hall McCormick III, a member of Chicago’s most prominent families, and his wife, the poet Isabella Gardner. The home is a rare and important example of Mies van der Rohe’s mature style, incorporating elements of his celebrated designs for the Farnsworth House (1951) and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive (1951). The McCormick House—one of only three single-family homes designed by Mies in the United States—originally served two purposes: it was a home for the McCormick family and a prototype for a proposed group of smaller, affordable mass-produced modular homes in the western Chicago suburbs that McCormick and co-developer Herbert S. Greenwald were hoping to build. However, the cutting-edge, high-end buildings were not met with enough buyers to begin construction.
Sold by its last occupants, Ray and Mary Ann Fick (Ray was the former mayor of Elmhurst), to the Elmhurst Fine Arts and Civic Center Foundation in 1991, the structure was moved from its original location at 299 Prospect Avenue to a new campus for the museum in Wilder Park in 1994. Made part of the new Elmhurst Art Museum (EAM), which opened in 1997, the walls were reconfigured to create a larger open space for events and exhibitions in the south wing and to house administrative offices in the north wing. In the summer of 2015, the administrative offices were moved to another space on site, which opened up both wings of the building to the public.
Today, the McCormick House is the cornerstone of the Elmhurst Art Museum’s collection. The museum has begun a multi-phase restoration plan to return the house to many of its original specifications. Two years of research have just become completed, which were funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Phase 1 of the construction was completed in 2016. It included removal of the existing paint, and then restoring it to its color with a coating that will preserve the steel structure for many years to come. Phase 2, completed in June 2018, included separating the house from the museum hallway and revealing its original façade, complete with the carport and new front door. The iconic entrance of this historically significant building is now visible for the first time in over twenty-five years and allows its unique features to be fully recognized by visitors and the larger art and design community. Upcoming Phases 3 and 4 will convert the floor plan back to its original layout as well as adding/repairing finishes to the interior.
Residents of the McCormick House
The first family to live in the home was part of the prominent and influential McCormick family in the Chicagoland area. The husband, Robert Hall McCormick III, was the Vice President of the McCormick Management Corporation and created important developments in the Chicago area. The wife, Isabella Stewart Gardner, was connected to the influential Boston family and great-grandniece of the founder of a museum in Boston. Gardner worked for Poetry Magazine and wrote her first two books of poetry while living in the home. Together, the couple entertained artists, architects, and writers in the house. Their wider social circle included figures such as Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Karl Shapiro, and others Gardner met as Associate Editor of Poetry magazine.
From 1961 to 1963, Arthur and Marilyn Sladek rented the house and lived in it with their six children: Mary, Ardythe, Marilyn, Barbara, Paul, and Jim. Then, in 1963, Ray and Mary Ann Fick bought the McCormick House and lived in it for nearly thirty years. The Ficks raised two sons, Neil and Doug, while living in the home and the family was very active in the community. Ray Fick served as Mayor of Elmhurst from 1973 to 1977. The couple sold the home in 1991 to the Elmhurst Fine Arts and Civic Center Foundation. Two years later, the house was moved from its original location to become part of the new Elmhurst Art Museum.