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

03 July, 2014

Edithton Beach Revisted

My friend Rommy Lopat, who publishes the very smart Weedpatch Gazette sent me an email the other day with a link to an essay about Chiwaukee Prairie, WI - and what was once Edithton Beach. This was quite a coincidence, as I had recently discovered an old article in my files about it and I was planning on revisiting the topic here.

I've included the link to my original post above, but to quickly brief you:  Edithton Beach was the "millionaires" playground which Edith Rockefeller McCormick started to build with her real estate business partners Edwin Krenn and Edward Dato in the 1920s. It was located on the shore of Lake Michigan in southern Wisconsin, an area now known as Chiwaukee.

This is an advertisement that ran in the Sept. 16th, 1925 Chicago Daily Tribune with the recipients of prize money for the naming of the development listed at right. Over 80,000 people entered the contest, and Elmer H. Huge of Laporte, Indiana won first prize with "Edithon Beach." He was presented with a $1,500 check at a ceremony held at the Drake Hotel on Sept. 15th, 1925. Second prize was "Nirvana" ($500), and third prize ($350) was awarded to the almost identical "Edithston Beach." ($150 went to runner up "Krenado Beach.")

It has been estimated that Edith spent upwards of $4,000,000 on the 1500 acre project, from its inception in the mid 1920s until her death in August of 1932 - at which time she was liquidating assets to cover the interest on bond issues. All buildings in the development were to be like Spanish castles, an airport was laid out and a yacht harbor and a golf course planned, but only one building was ever erected.

The depression came in 1929 of course, and it was impossible for the firm of Krenn & Dato (funded by the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Trust) to sell any of the acreage. Up until the day of her death, Edith paid the amounts due on $1,137,500 in bonds and retired a large part of the issue. Almost five years later the Circuit Court in Kenosha entered a foreclosure decree to satisfy a $425,000 judgement secured by bondholders on the remaining debt.

It would take another decade, and the conclusion of WWII before anyone considered development of any sort. Plans were made, and once more, plans faltered. This was much to the benefit of what would eventually become Chiwaukee Prairie, managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy. 

16 June, 2014

June 17th, 1915

It would take another six years.

The chances are very slim for having Mrs. Harold McCormick back in Lake Forest this summer.  She is still at her rest cure in Zurich, Switzerland. The whole McCormick family, including the head, seems utterly enthralled with Zurich. Mrs. McCormick goes boating on the Swiss lakes - she never goes on Lake Michigan - she plays tennis daily, and rides, and when at home her only exercise is walking and dancing.

Then, it seems, she has gathered a very interesting foreign circle at Zurich. Many brilliant Poles, Russians, Greeks, and Serbians are refugees there, and a salon was not difficult to establish; finally both Mr. and Mrs. McCormick are interested in the Red Cross and working for it. SO with the war of eleven nations raging on all side of them the atmosphere is undoubtedly charged with more vital possibilities than Lake Forest in Summer.

Chicago Daily Tribune; Jun 17, 1915

09 June, 2014

The Other Side of the Footlights

Early in 1927 it was announced in the New York Times: "Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick of Chicago, long a patron of the world of music, has again stepped to the other side of the musical footlights." In collaboration with her fellow music aficionado and neighbor, Eleanor Everest Freer, Edith wrote the lyrics for a song that Freer had written, "I Write Not to Thee, Dearest."

Eleanor Everest Freer

Both women were considered to be the most prominent of the wealthy music supporters in Chicago at the time, particularly with regard to the Chicago Civic Opera Company. Freer was well know for composing many musical works, particularly a volume of forty-four songs from the Portuguese, a song cycle for medium voices.

Given how well-read Edith Rockefeller McCormick was - combined with her passion for opera (and her hatred of hymns), I'm not surprised that she took on this project. What has me curious is just who was she thinking of when she wrote it:

I write not to thee dearest,
I write to what thou art;
For the brightness of thy face, dearest,
Blinds thee from my heart. 

I write not of thee, dearest,
I write of what thou art;
For the radiance of thy soul, dearest, 
Obscures thee from my heart. 

The fairest dew of God-made morn
Is frail enough to be the tears,
That fall from my eyes, dearest, 
Because I cannot see.


"I Write Not to Thee, Dearest" was Edith's second in her "Love Song Cycle" with Eleanor Everest Freer. Her first,  "How Can We Know?" was published in August of 1925. That work, which treats of an agony of doubt, a groping in uncertainty, ends with the ne plus ultra:
No earth-stain'd judgement of men,
And no fire-prov'd power of the gods,
Can take this knowledge from us.
For we know through the trust born of love.

Edith Rockefeller McCormick in the early 1920s

29 May, 2014

A Few Words on Charles A. Platt

It falls me by that it has been awhile since I have written anything about Charles A. Platt, the man responsible for creating Villa Turicum. Writing about him does present a daunting task, as Platt was not only an architect, but also an accomplished artist of merit and that leaves a lot of ground to cover. In contrast to this, I'm reminded of what Platt once told a friend: "At bottom I am a practical man." Perhaps that is what made him such a great architect and artist. That, and his passion for beauty.

Charles A. Platt, self-portrait

The salient facts of Platt's life begin with his birth in New York, on October sixteenth of 1861. He was the son of a successful lawyer and his mother was one of the Cheneys of Manchester, of silk producing fame. He was educated in New York, and in his youth disclosed the artistic predilections which were soon to govern him altogether. He entered the school of the National Academy of Design and later frequented the Art Student's League. There were architectural premonitions from the start - he used to make paper imitations of objects, and houses were conspicuous among them.

His primary concern in his early years; all he cared to do, was to paint and to etch. He had very good luck with the latter, as he fell into the hands of the etcher Stephen Parrish, and by 1881, when he was only twenty, he had produced in his "Gloucester Harbor" a highly creditable plate. A year later he was in Paris, studying at Julien's under Boulanger and Lefebvre. On his return to New York in 1887 he rapidly won recognition. The Society of Amerian Artists was then in the heyday of its secession from the Academy. Platt was promptly made a member.

It was apparent from the get-go that his work displayed amazing technical proficiency; sound in craftsmanship and firm in their workmanlike design. This technical certitude would hold well for the career in architecture that would lay ahead, although he would never give up the brush nor the needle for his entire life. He once confided to a friend that as a student at the Ecole, "painting with all his might," he spoke with the architects amongst his companions, and he himself enjoyed studying architecture "from the point of view of the artist."

At Villa Lante, in Bagnaia, Italy c.1892 - evident inspiration for the tea house at Villa Turicum

During his early years as an artist Charles Platt and his brother went to Italy to explore the gardens there. They photographed and drew them, and thoroughly mastered the subject. Platt mastered it in dual fashion. He appreciated the beauty spread before him, and he appreciated the practical issues involved. No one knew better than he the romantic glamour of places like the Villa D'Este or the Villa Lante, but when he published his pioneering and wildly successful Italian Gardens in 1894 he made it plain therein that, for him, the true formal garden was an affair of balanced design, of thoughtful building, of the right adjustment of the garden to the site.

This period embraced the turning point of his career, and, so to speak the writing was on the wall with regard to Villa Turicum. In the midst of writing about gardens and houses he started to build them, and thenceforth his destiny was set. He remained an architect to the end of his days - an architect who was also an artist.

 Charles Platt's first architectural commission; High Court, for Miss Annie Lazarus in Cornish, NH (1890). Platt was a part time resident of Cornish, and the Cornish Colony from 1889 to 1933.

I have no doubt that Edith Rockefeller McCormick devoured Platt's Italian Gardens, and the high repute he soon won with the book was furthered with his designs for country houses, which were always enhanced by their gardens - examples of dignity and grace. His own taste was for symmetry and a classical reserve harking back to Italian precedent. He like an orderly distribution of his rooms. He was particulsar about preserving a perfect equilibrium in his fenestration, and indeed there are few who have ever equalled him in the handling of architectural accents, in the designing and placement of a porch, a veranda, a dormer, or a cornice.

The loggia at Villa Turicum

And instinct for a fine simplicity was at the very core of Charles Platt's art - yet it did not interfere with his love of precious thing, such as rugs, furniture, picture, tapestries, etc., nor did it stay his hand from striking a sumptuous note when it was called for in the organization of a luxurious interior. With impeccable judgement and restraint he served his ideal of beauty.

His abilities would extend beyond the country houses to the magistrale designing of a monumental edifice such as the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. and the stately yet serene academic buildings at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Perhaps his resourcefulness flowed from a mind rich in reading, from a temperament abundantly fertized by experience in travel and contact with tradition. He once noted that in preparing for making his renderings for the National Gallery project - before putting pencil to paper - he ransacked Europe for the ideas bearing upon lighting, means of public circulation, ventilation, etc., which at the time were embodied in museums abroad.

The Library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Charles Platt definitely had something to say. What was it? Nothing recondite or obscure, nothing arbitrarily idiosyncratic, nothing mannered. What he had to say consisted simply of a conception of beauty expressed in terms fitted to the needs of his own epoch, of beauty in landscape masterfully painted or etched, of beauty in buildings exquisitely refined in line and mass. He was faithful to tradition. When he died in 1933, he was President of the American Academy in Rome - where he upheld the austere principles that Charles F. McKim founded the institution with. Platt's was a rare individuality. He had all the traits of a commanding, constructive artist, and throughout them there ran the golden strain of consummate taste.

See also:
The Italian Style
Edith's Museum, Redux
Villa Turicum's Alter Ego