07 January, 2016

The North Shore Archipelago

In 1916, Chicago Tribune society columnist Madame X (who was actually socialite Caroline Kirkland) announced, "A Dream of the Future." This happened to be the dream of none other than Edith Rockefller McCormick.


"Time may seem realized Mrs. Harold McCormick's vision of an archipelago of artificial islands following the coast from the Great Lakes Naval Training station to Chicago, forming a longitudinal lagoon which I would provide a safe and tranquil water course for suburban traffic. Instead of motoring to town we're taking the express trains Chicagowards, the millionaires of that part of the country could reach the Loop by water in swift in luxurious motorboats. The more adventurous could even make the trip in their velvet cushioned aeroplanes.

Can't you imagine the scene - The long line of beautiful islands, The inner waterway, with smart watercraft of all kinds skimming over it's glassy surface disturbing the reflections of the pagodas and gay gardens that would adorn the islands? Overhead the whir of man-made flying machines would add further life to the scene. We may not live to see it, but it is a picture capable of realization."

Harry Weese would propose basically the same idea for Chicago in 1952. The islands would be connected to the mainland through tunnels at the north and south ends and over a suspension bridge near Navy pier. 

I can only imagine the row - both on the North Shore and in Chicago, by lakefront property owners if either of these ideas have come to fruition. 

22 December, 2015

Villa Turicum's Architect

Charles Adams Platt (1861-1933) was a man with many titles: artist, landscaper, and architect. He was born in New York Cit, and in his young years he briefly attended the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. In 1882 he went to Europe to etch and paint. He remained there for five years.

Charles Adams Platt

When he returned to New York in 1887, he became a member of the Society of American Artists and continued etching and painting. In 1890, he designed his first garden for the painter Henry Oliver Walker. In 1892, he traveled to Italy with his brother, William Barnes Platt, who had studied with Frederick Law Olmsted. Charles Platt wrote articles on the Italian garden for Harper's Magazine which were published in book form in 1894 under the title Italian Gardens - a book that I have no doubt that Edith read. 

He received his first architectural commission in 1893 for a house for Annie Lazarus, the sister of the poet Emma Lazarus. Commissions for gardens in the Italian manner came his way first, then some for houses. His career flourished mostly with residential work, but he also handled commissions for apartment house, schools, and plans for buildings at the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois.

Residence of Annie Lazurus, High Court, in Cornish, NH (1893)

1907 was the pivotal year when Platt was given the commission by Harold and Edith McCormick to design and build Villa Turicum, a project that would continue in segments for the next ten years. 

He also designed a museum, the Freer Gallery (1913-1918) in Washington D.C.  Other prominent clients besides the McCormicks were Vincent Astor of New York, Arthur Meeker of Chicago, Eugene Meyer, Jr., of Washington, Charles F. Freer of Detroit, and Mrs. James Roosevelt of New York. 

Charles Adams Platt remained loyal to the classical tradition throughout his entire career. His earliest residences, like his gardens, leaned to the Italian style, as did several of his office and apartment buildings and the Freer Gallery. Villa Turicum was certainly the pinnacle of this oeuvre. In later years, he turned more and more to the Georgian style, which became very popular after WWI. 

Restrained by comparison with other classical work of the time, Platt's building reveal a sureness and a master of style with placed him in the forefront of the American Renaissance. 

01 April, 2015

The James Joyce Connection

Last week I was having lunch with my friend Carol in Lake Forest and the topic of James Joyce came up. It jogged my memory with regard to Edith's patronage of him as he was working on Ulysses in Zurich during 1918.

James Joyce had relocated to Switzerland during World War I, and he was already familiar with Carl Jung as he had purchased The Significance of the Father in the Destiny of the Individual while living in Trieste, Italy. This is interesting because Joyce was always skeptical of psychological analysis, yet none-the-less it created a connection and in 1918 he became acquainted with Edith Rockefeller McCormick via the psychiatrist.

James Joyce c. 1918


Edith had left the United States in 1913 to become a patient of Jung in Zurich. Over the next eight years she would move from that role to protégée, finally becoming a lay analyst herself. Becoming immersed in Jung's artistic and humanistic techniques, she would underwrite much of the work herself. (She would found and endow the Psychological Club of Zurich.)

Due to her association with Jung (which provided entrée to many scholars and artists) Edith came in contact with James Joyce. She immediately set up a fund of 12,000 Swiss francs (1000 a month) to support Joyce, who had been working on Ulysses since 1914.

The arrangement lasted for about a year and a half, until Edith (ever the ardent supporter) pressed Joyce to undergo analysis with Jung. Despite the fact that the analysis would be offered at her expense, Joyce was vehement in his refusal to participate. It was at this point that his funding was coolly and quietly shut down. (Despite her withdrawal of support for Joyce, Edith's newly established McCormick Stiftung would continue to assist other needy artists, musicians and writers.) Joyce himself would later write after her death that she had been "prompted by humanity and generosity" (Letters, p. 324).

Edith would return to the United States in 1921, with the intention of turning Villa Turicum into a Mecca of psychoanalysis for devotees. Ulysses would be published in Paris in it's entirety in 1922, although it would take over a decade for it to make U.S. publication. It is interesting to note that in 1932 (the year that Edith died) James Joyce was willing to have his troubled daughter Lucia undergo analysis with Jung. The results were unsatisfactory, and by 1935 Joyce discontinued the sessions and terminated all contact with Jung.

17 January, 2015

Edithton Beach

When it comes to grand plans and even grander undoings, Edithton Beach was Edith Rockefeller McCormick's Waterloo. Villa Turicum by default suffered as well due to the circumstances.

In a previous post, I mentioned the inimitable Edwin Krenn (of Krenn & Dato) and one of his projects. In 1923, Edith (never modest about her aspirations) embarked on a plan with her European partners to create a resort/colony for the wealthy. A national contest was held to select a permanent name her community. The ideas poured in because there was to be a prize of $1,500 for the selected name. The submissions included such names as "Eden Pier" and "Ediths-dream", but Elmer Huge in La Porte Indiana won the prize for his concept: "Edithton Beach"

This venture was part of the Rockefeller McCormick Trust; the backbone of Krenn & Dato that realized many of her real estate dreams.

This time about 1,500 acres were involved, with Edwin Krenn at the design helm. This was to be a community of millionaires; complete with a golf course, luxury marina, exclusive schools with playgrounds and of course the Tudor style homes themselves. It was to be located on the Illinois Wisconsin border, bisected by a rail line and fronting Lake Michigan. (Years ago when I first read about this I raised an eyebrow, but more about that later.)

Work on Edithton began post haste, and in designing the community Krenn ransacked the styles of such places as Palm Beach and Atlantic City. It is here that I would like to cite a cheeky article that recently was brought to my attention; written by Diane Giles of the Kenosha News, who claims that if it weren't for the Great Depression, Pleasant Prairie would have (horrors!) a community of millionaires at it's doorstep:

With her divorce settlement and some of Daddy’s money (at one point he had given her $40 million) she began buying up property in Pleasant Prairie. When she was finished, she and her investors owned a large tract between today’s Southport Park and the state line — about 3.5 miles of lakeshore.

Edithton Beach extended to Sheridan Road in places and farther west, past the 2200 block of 104th Street.
One source stated that a big arch was erected over Sheridan Road at the point where a side road led to the east into the heart of the new development: The arch was built to advertise the project.
The plans were indeed grandiose. Edithton Beach was to have a swank downtown area with buildings half-timbered in the old English Tudor style.
Edith spent big bucks — more than $4 million — on the groundwork of her fashionable city, building a harbor for the yachts that were sure to sail in and an 18-hole golf course with a lakefront clubhouse. The infrastructure for streets was begun.

Here is a photo of the Pleasant Prairie -Edithton Beach area taken in 1946, courtesy of historicaerials.com:



The road that you see horizontally across the bottom is current-day 116th Street, which is the North Border to the Chiwaukee Prairie Nature Preserve. Bear in mind, I said 1946. This is the earliest period that we can view from the air what was to constitute a large portion of Edithton Beach proper.

In the 1920's the work commenced, but unfortunately Edith was unable to supervise any of the construction herself, nor even visit the Krenn & Dato offices due to her agoraphobia. As the year 1927 came and went, Krenn & Dato continued to borrow heavily, wading deeper and deeper into debt. This of course sent the Rockefeller McCormick Trust, it's holdings, Edith, and Edwin Krenn & Edward Dato lurching toward the unavoidable disaster which would occur in 1929. After the crash Edith was left with a huge portfolio of unsold real estate, tenants who could not pay, and enormous debts.

At this point our map brings us up to date, because in 1946 a fellow named Joseph Shaffron purchased much of the beleaguered property (in 1936 what constitutes a lot of Pleasant Prairie was sold for back taxes) and renamed the Edithton Beach portion, with it's unfinished roads leading to nowhere, after his daughter. We can now locate it via it's current name, Carol Beach:


As we can see in comparing the previous photo to the above, not much has happened in the 79 years since Edith's death in August of 1932. What did happen is that in 1946 Mr. Shaffron announced that under the new name of Carol Beach Estates the property would be developed in sections. The project was expected to take (once again) several years to complete.

An advertisement that appeared in the Chicago Tribune in September of 1946
Once the first phase of Carol Beach was completed, more expensive homes were planned on the Eastern (more desirable) sections of property. Still, not much of anything happened. This begs one to wonder what would have happened if the Great Depression hadn't occurred, or if Edith had lived and her father John D. Rockefeller would have chosen to bail the project out in some fashion.
My guess is; you could have built it, but the millionaires would not have flocked. The area is certainly lovely - that is evidenced today by the Chiwaukee Preserve. It is perhaps there that we find a silver lining to this entire little drama. If the project had indeed progressed as planned, it is almost certain that the vast portions of what turned out to be undeveloped land would never have been available for preservation.

30 October, 2014

Villa Turicum in the 1970s

I recently finished editing a few photos taken on the grounds of Villa Turicum in the early 1970s - a time when many of us first became familiar with it, although it has been my pleasure to speak with many who knew the estate from an earlier age as well.

I believe many of you will enjoy this glance back at a period when Villa Turicum was lost - yet retained all of it's magic.


 Service gates (of which there were once many) that allowed auxiliary access to many parts to the estate and gardens.


 Twin dolphins and the first fountain terrace. Villa Turicum itself once stood directly above.

The fountain in its heyday. 


 Once of the many staircases and cascades that ran between fountains down the bluff to the swimming pool and the lake.



 Pelican (beheaded by vandals) and twin salamanders. This was another stop on many of the terraces running down the bluff.



 Water cascade detail.



 The view from the top of the bathhouse/changing rooms.



 Entrance to the bathhouse/changing rooms that stands behind the swimming pool at the foot of the bluff.



 Window of the changing rooms. I like the wave detail.



 This tunnel in the bathhouse changing rooms led to an elevator that would take guests to the house 70 feet above. When Villa Turicum was torn down, much of the debris was dumped into the elevator shaft, with the elevator still inside.



 Broken statuary near the swimming pool.



 M for McCormick of course.



 The view from on top of the bluff to the south. A collapsed staircase and the swimming pool are to the left.


14 July, 2014

Garden Show Held At Villa Turicum


June 22, 1930 - LAKE FOREST matrons who attended the garden show held last week-end at Villa Turicum, Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick's estate, included Mrs. T. Philip Swift, Mrs. Stuart J. Templeton, and Mrs. Charles F. Glore. Mrs. Glore's daughter, Frances assisted at the flower market.  (Chicago Daily Tribune)


Mrs. Stuart J. Templeton


Mrs. Charles F. Glore and Frances Glore



The Cut Flower Garden of Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick's Lake Forest Estate


Mrs. T. Philip Swift

07 July, 2014

Muriel in Lake Forest


It wasn't long after Edith Rockefeller McCormick's  return from a seven year tarriance in Switzerland and her subsequent divorce from Harold Fowler McCormick in 1921 that daughter Muriel "flew the coop" so-to-speak, and became inseparable from the socially prominent Mr. and Mrs. George Alexander McKinlock.  Years would be spent traveling and living with them, as Muriel and Mrs. McKinlock shared a special mother and daughter bond - bolstered by Muriel's claim to being the "spiritual bride" of the McKinlock's deceased son, who was killed by a sniper's bullet in WWI. (We'll save that for another post.)



Muriel McCormick in her early twenties


In July of 1926 the Chicago Daily Tribune announced: Miss Muriel McCormick made use of one of the most convenient of feminine prerogatives last week and changed her mind about her plans for the summer. Instead of accompanying the George McKinlocks when they sailed on the Conte Rosso Saturday for a holiday in the Italian lake country, she is to be in Lake Forest, in charge of the McKinlock ménage until the return in September.

The next two months were not to find Muriel idle, as she had announced that she intended to spend the summer studying music. Her regimen was to include piano practice six hours a day - quite a task for a young, mercurial woman of 23. (The previous summer, Muriel had aspired to opera, diligently practicing in a small 20 by 16 foot back yard studio that the McKinlocks had built for her.)

The Tribune's report of July 12th concluded: She went as far as New York with the McKinlocks to bid them adieu at the dock, and then spent the weekend just past with her grandfather, John D. Rockefeller at his beautiful estate on the Hudson. She is to return tomorrow to this part of the world, to take up the work with which she'll fill the time until her hosts sail for home again.

Of course my question is - did she spend any time at Villa Turicum? Her mother owned it (Edith purchased it from Harold after the divorce) but the relationship between true mother and daughter was contentious, at best. I can only surmise that she did, because it wouldn't be too many years later that she would have her own estate in Palm Beach, FL after spending many years with the McKinlocks at their villa in Vita Serena, "Casa Alejandro."  Muriel would name her own Palm Beach home in Via Bellaria, "Villa Turicum."


New book explores the tale of the dead son and his devoted mother  George Alexander and Marion McKinlock's Casa Alejandro in Palm Beach, FL