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Edith Rockefeller McCormick, c. 1910


“I find myself occasionally thinking of her with affection. She was a great original, and we have never had too many of those…If there are ghosts in Chicago, surely one of the most curious and touching must be that of Edith Rockefeller McCormick.” (Meeker, Chicago With Love, 156)






















MARCH, 1912







THE VILLAS AND GARDENS of Italy have excited the admiration of the world for centuries. These villas were country homes, intended for the occasional occupancy of their owners, who, history tells us, were men of large means, of big ideas, of education and culture. They were the expression of social conditions of the age in which they were developed. The owners of these villas brought with them to the country all the civilization of the city together with that desire for artistic attainment which their culture demanded.


As a consequence we find that the Italian villa included not only the casino or dwelling place and the other necessary buildings, but the park with its gardens, terraces, fountains and pavilions as well. These parts were arranged to give the fullest opportunity for the enjoyment of the various pleasures of country life and to reveal at every turn the beauty of the landscape.


The Italian villa of the Renaissance has come to have a peculiar value as an architectural type under contemporary American conditions. We find to-day a large number of our countrymen who in many respects can be favorably compared to the owners of the past. Conditions seem to be repeating themselves in the desire of our more fortunate citizens for life in the country. It is a characteristic of Americans to know what will best meet their requirements. We seem to show a power to assimilate ideals, traditions and forms which are not native to the soil. It can not be said, however, that in the act, we lose any measure of originality. It is that freshness, life and color imparted by the sympathetic use of historic models which is giving propriety to our designs.






In the March, 1904, issue of THE ARCHITECTURAL RECORD, we called attention to the part Mr. Charles A. Platt has taken in making the Renaissance villa a complete residential type. It now remains for us to study one of the most recent examples of this development.


The Harold F. McCormick house at Lake Forest, ILL., has given Mr. Platt an unusual opportunity to realize one of his early aspirations, that of working freely in the style about which he is so enthusiastic, a style which has not been undertaken by many of the American architects, notwithstanding its appropriateness for the large American country house.


Conditions at Lake Forest, Ill., situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, were most favorable for the location of just such a house.


The same excellent judgment that prompted the architects of the Italian villas in the selection of the site, the ingenuity with which every natural advantage of the place was made use of and the skill with which the designer has disposed the various parts to form a charming whole, disclosing new surprises and unexpected delights at each turn, has been shown in the McCormick plan.


The McCormick property consists of many acres with a large frontage upon the lake. The ground rises abruptly from the water to the court terrace level: a height of seventy feet. The house has been placed on the edge of a heavily wooded bluff overlooking the Lake and the surrounding country.


As one turns into the grounds from the highway the house is to be seen terminating a broad drive. This drive divides as the house is approached, making a splendid Lawn before the entrance.


One does not realize that they are in such close proximity to the lake as they approach the house through the wooded drive. It is not until the house is entered, and passed through, that the wonderful glimpse of the water comes to one as a complete surprise. Upon a sunny day it is hard to believe you are not sojourning in Italy itself with the blue waters of the Mediterranean sea at your feet.


So it will be see that the buildings are so placed that there is a progression, artistically managed, from the unconfined naturalism of the forest park to the strict formality of the grounds which immediately surround the dwelling. We include among our illustrations, a general plan which is well worth careful attention.


An architectural feature has been made of the Lake approach which has been cut through the trees opening up a full view of the water from the court terrace. We show the design for this scheme on page 223. The Italian method of making a feature of this avenue is not lost sight of. Fountains, pools and cascades are included with embellishments of statuary at the different terrace levels. A bath house has been worked in at the lowest level. This opens onto the swimming pool.


The house was originally less than half the size that our illustrations show it. The East (Lake) front remains unchanged. The addition was made on the West (entrance) front by adding all the rooms shown on the plan west of the staircase. The form of this addition was dictated by the width of the promontory on which the buildings are located. It would have been impossible to enlarge the house on either the north or the south ends.


Fireproof construction throughout has been used. The house is built of brick covered with nearly white cement stucco. All the trimming and ornamental features are of limestone. The roof is concrete, covered with red tile.


The cornice is particularly interesting in detail and color. It gives another touch of the Italian influence with its weathered brown brackets with the panels between decorated in blue and gold.


As one enters the house he finds himself in a wide entrance hall, stone lined with an interesting carved wood ceiling. From this hall a barrel vaulted corridor extends through the house to the Loggia and court terrace. Our frontispiece pictures in a most attractive manner just what can be expected upon reaching this loggia. There are unrestricted vistas in three directions.






On either side of the corridor are the Open Court and the Pompeian, or Fountain Court. Both of these courts have been treated as architectural features, as will be seen by the illustrations.

The library and dining room overlook the lake and open upon the loggia and court terrace. Photographs of all the rooms are shown among the following plate illustrations.


Special attention should be called, however, to the drawing room with its walls of Formosa marble. Instead of the garish and cold appearance so often associated with marble as a wall covering, this room is of a color and warmth which makes the room most livable. The floor of this room is teak. Throughout the remainder of the house the floors are marble or terrazzo.


The dining room and the library are paneled in Italian walnut with painted ceilings. These ceilings add to the many interesting features.


The McCormick house is one of three that Mr. Platt built at the same time on the shores of the Great Lakes, the Mather house near Cleveland, which The Architectural Record published in November, 1910, and the Alger house situated on Lake St. Clair.




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 Todd Protzman Davis

1244 N. Stone

Chicago, IL 60610











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