18 October, 2011

Auction Day, 1934

Quite a few times I have written about the auction that occurred on January 20th, 1934. Almost immediately after Edith's death in August of 1932 her belongings were inventoried and catalogued. Given the scope of this task, it took a year and a half to organize what would become the auction of the decade. There were of course two of these affairs that occurred in Chicago; the first taking place at her beloved 1000 Lake Shore Dr. mansion downtown, and the second at her equally treasured Villa Turicum in Lake Forest. (A third and smaller auction was held in New York)

The appraisers set the value of the Villa Turicum contents at $3,000,000. When the gavel fell for the last time that Saturday afternoon, the auction total for her Lake Forest estate amounted to just over $25,000. When all was said and done, the total for these three auctions was little more than $400,000 - which was determined to equal 2¢ on the dollar as compared the original purchase price on rare books, furniture, jewelry and works of art.

Auction day at Villa Turicum, 1934

None-the-less, this was an event. The Villa Turicum auction alone drew just under 4,000 individuals (18,000 had previewed in the days prior) who jammed the great drawing room and the halls and stairways of the mansion to observe the sale and (for a few) actually bid on items. Of note in this array were Edith's daughter Muriel McCormick and her husband Elisha Dyer Hubbard. A representative from the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. was also present, as his government was in the process of reopening and refurbishing the Ambassador's residence.

To many, Muriel's most curious purchase that day was her childhood suite of furniture from one on the bedrooms on the second floor for $25. (The furniture in all of Villa Turicum's bedrooms was identical; only the walls were painted different colors.) She also purchased the jewelry box that had remained on top of Edith's bureau for nearly two decades.

The proceeds of all of these auctions were used in settling claims against Edith's estate, of which Chicago Title & Trust was executor. The process of disbursements and settling the estate in whole would continue for another twenty years, while the mansion would continue to sleep.

A buyer for Villa Turicum itself would not occur until 1942 when Richard B. Hart, president of Hart, Shaw & Co., (acting for the estate) would purchase it for $75,000 at a tax foreclosure sale in Waukegan. This sale would be followed by another in 1947, when a Chicago syndicate (which included Solomon Axelrod as it's representative) would purchase 198 acres for $77,000 and a $160,000 tax lien. (This would be minus 100 acres to the south, which was had already been conveyed to the city of Lake Forest by Richard Hart to settle earlier back taxes - and remains today a public park.) Alexrod's syndicate would be but one of many ideas that would be proposed and fail until the wrecking ball would make a final decision in 1956.

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