28 November, 2010

Boy Scouts at the Hearth of Things



Early this morning a visitor to the Villa Turicum website sent me an email explaining that they had a police photograph of vandalism that occurred at Villa Turicum in the late 1940's. My correspondant asked if I would like to see the photo, and of course I replied that I did.

The above image arrived about an hour later, and when I first glanced at it my heart instantly skipped a few beats. My immediate thought was, "Oh no, I'm looking at the boy scout massacre." It is here that I have to digress for a moment and fill you in as to why I thought this.

Lest I disturb you, let me first explain that boy scout massacre is my term for what happened to the mansion. As I have often written, after Edith died in 1932 the estate languished as plans by potential buyers or investors fell through. The estate remained mothballed for quite a few years after the January 1934 auction of it's contents. Many of the former servants and grounds keepers tried in vain to keep everything in order. Unfortunately, nature was taking it's course; the lawns were overgrown, trees and shrubs were sprouting through the driveway and the terraces down the bluff to the swimming pool. The long promenade toward the tea house resembled a tunnel as opposed to beautifully landscaped walkway.

In due course the legend of the empty house spread throughout the area, and subsequently curiosity seekers, looters and vandals would arrive on the scene to take a peek - or just take. Then the Boy Scouts blew in, and they were not coming to the rescue. On May 20, 1950 about 150 to 200 Scouts spent a weekend camping on the property. One, or some of them (I'll give them the benefit that it was a group decision) had the idea to stage a war. In the house itself. Ergo, Villa Turicum was to suffer some of it's severest damage to date. The Boy Scouts waged a mock war within the mansion using hatchets, hunting knives and clubs to destroy doors, paneling, fixtures and moldings.

The entrance just before the mansion was destroyed

I wholeheartedly believe  this to be the death knell for Villa Turicum. Doors and windows were gone, and given the location on the bluff above the lake - nature took a toll. (Ironically the house was built to be fireproof!) When Robert Kendler bought the property in 1956 (and held on to it in a year later in a delinquent property tax auction, with plans to save the house) the damage was far too severe, and it was soon bulldozed down to the foundation. The service court and garages with their copper doors were to follow in 1963, in order to extend Circle Lane and to make room for his growing subdivision of maisonettes.

Now that I've given you the story of the massacre, we can move forward. Of course within seconds of viewing the photo I realized something was wrong. Well, everything was wrong. I know the Villa Turicum floor plan like the back of my hand, and my first observation was that the fireplace to the left of the staircase just shouldn't be there. As my eyes adjusted and while my heart stopped palpitating I realized the style was all wrong, and I still couldn't get that fireplace off my mind. So, after I calmed down and did a little thinking and probing I started to get some answers.

My correspondent had the right family, but the wrong McCormick! But I too went down a different path, as I eventually found the same photograph which identified the scene as the Patterson McCormick mansion on Burton Street. This had me scratching my head as the Patterson McCormick fireplaces were all wrong in comparison to the above photo. I hesitantly chalked this up to the renovation that took place when the building was converted to condominiums.

Finally the mystery was solved when a friend informed me that the image at top is indeed vandalism that occurred at the Cyrus McCormick mansion at 675 Rush St. in 1948. Finally everything made sense, and had I looked at my own photos of 675 Rush I could have solved the mystery myself. Below is an earlier photo of the hallway from a different direction:

(The fireplace shown in the first photo can be seen at the end of this hall)

Following are a few photos of 675 Rush in various stages. It is interesting to note that after Nettie Fowler McCormick died in 1922, our Harold of Villa Turicum fame would inherit 675 Rush Street. As Edith received Villa Turicum & 1000 Lake Shore Dr. in the 1921 divorce settlement, perhaps Nettie was insuring that her favorite son would have a home?

675 Rush St. in the 1920's. The Hotel Allerton is in the background

An interior view

Edith & Harold's youngest daughter Mathilde standing beside 675 Rush in 1922.

The exterior of 675 Rush on November 12th,1941. It is interesting to note that Harold died a month prior; October 16th, 1941

September 14th, 1948. (The same year as our first photograph)

The entrance to 675 Rush St.

This is our other mansion mentioned; the Patterson-McCormick, designed and built by Stanford White in 1893 with a 1927 addition by David Adler. As you can see, this time at least a building was saved and beautifully restored:


I have walked past this building for over twenty years as it is one street North of me in Chicago. The quirky thing is that for years I wondered what the interior looked like as I had never had occasion to be inside of it. I've been in almost every building of historical note, and this one has somehow always evaded me, which I always found strange due to it's proximity to me. That question was answered only two weeks ago when I saw that Billy Corgan's unit was listed for sale. I posted the link on Facebook, and of course will share some of the photos with you as well:

The Corgan unit is on the second floor, so it include the balcony & terrace.


So. I can happily end this post on the upswing, as evidenced above. I'm not sure now if I ever do want to see the interior of Villa Turicum in ruin. (Viewing the Rush St. photo was enough!) Even though I've dealt with numerous photos of Villa Turicum's exterior in decay, at least parts of the grounds have been restored and there are still elements intact; the Tea House remains virtually unchanged from the day it was built. However, having only seen the interiors in their prime, I think someday it will be a jolt for me to see the downfall, as the house is gone forever. Perhaps it's best to leave it forever young in my mind.

Incidentally, should you be interested in Mr. Corgan's listing, click here.

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