In 1907 Harold McCormick bought a
260 acre site, including a 70-foot bluff on Lake
Michigan in Lake Forest, IL. McCormick hired an architect named Frank Lloyd Wright
(b. 1867) to make a design, which was done. However, Wright was dismissed
when McCormick’s wife, Edith Rockefeller McCormick (the daughter of John
D.) decided to move in a different direction and create an Italian style
villa, the supreme style of the higher echelons of society. Perhaps she had
been influenced by Edith Wharton’s 1905 non-fiction book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens.
Charles Platt (1861-1933), an architect and landscape architect from New
Hampshire who had had his sketches of Italian Renaissance gardens
popularized in a 1893 Harper’s
Magazine and via his own 1894 book, Italian Gardens, was hired to execute plans for the house
and landscape. Harold McCormick wrote to Charles Platt: “Mrs. McC inclines to being partial to Italian style. Very
glad you’re coming.” (1908). Platt’s design resulted in Villa Turicum
(built 1908-1918), an Italianate mansion with a huge greensward entrance
mall on the west and an intricate water chain pouring down to the lake on
the same axis to the east. Curving steps, terraces, the water chain, and
stone dolphins were all built into the bluff, and the Italian influence
even dated to the Roman Age: included in the landscape was a Pompeian-red
atrium with fountain. Not far away Harold’s brother, Cyrus, was creating a
very naturalistic, idealistic estate: ‘Walden’ (named for Thoreau’s book),
so two large themes in American landscape architecture of the time were
contrasted in these neighboring estates. Edith and Harold divorced, and
Edith spent most of her time living in Chicago, where she entertained
lavishly and supported the Chicago Opera, James Joyce, and other causes. Villa Turicum,
however, was always fully staffed. In 1932, bankrupted by the stock market
crash, Edith R. McCormick died $2 million in debt. The house was long
abandoned and demolished in 1965, and the property was extensively
sub-divided. But the water chain leading to the lake, has, in the past
three years, been marvelously restored by its current owners, mostly from
original stone found scattered on the bluff. The twin walkways on either
side now lead again to the lake’s edge, where a long tunnel (now sealed)
once led to an elevator that carried guests back up to the house from the
beach, where a swimming pool was located. A lily pool to the south of the
mansion has also been restored (though not the lilies), although the sunken
gardens formerly surrounding the lily pool are now gone. Charles Platt
often worked in collaboration with Frederick Law Olmsted’s sons, John and
Frederick, Jr., who continued their father’s design business. Following Villa Turicum,
Platt created master plans for PhillipsAcademy in Andover, MA (1922-1930), and the University of IL at Champaign-Urbana (1921-1933). Arthur Miller of the
Lake ForestCollege Library and I recently led a site tour sponsored by
the ChicagoBotanic Garden. It was great to feel the vision of Charles Platt,
and to see the grandeur and scope of his plan for an enormously wealthy
couple in the age before taxation. And one could also hear in the
background the words attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright, who grumbled that
Platt “was a very dangerous man — he did the wrong thing so well.” Both Villa Turicum
and Walden are important sites to preserve, part of our unique American
:: The Villa Exteriors ::
West elevation c. 1918
East elevation - facing Lake Michigan.
The loggia & terrace, with Janet Scudder’s 1910 Shell Girl fountain.
The first in a series of terraces and water elements to
the lake. This fountain features twin dolphins; with the southeast
(library) corner of the house in the background.
View from the first terrace toward the beach and Lake
A reverse view from the succeeding terrace and the
beginning of the water cascade; this fountain with a pelican and twin
Detail of the pelican and alligators.
Detail of the southeast (library) corner of the house.
Detail of the south front.
South Garden Elevation
South Promenade Terrace
South Promenade Terrace in 1928
The vista south of the house, with the Tea House in the
View of the south garden parterres from the second floor
of Villa Turicum.
The lily pool garden in full bloom.
Herms in the lily pool garden.
North Interior Court
The cut-flower & vegetable gardens.
Aerial View of Villa Turicum
Villa Turicum’s neighbor to the
north, Walden.(The service
court and garages of Villa Turicum can be seen
in the top portion of this image, with the cut-flower and vegetable
garden to the left)
Aerial view of the watercourse and eastern exposure. (The
lily pond and sunken gardens are visible at the top of this image.)
Villa Turicum c. 1932
A rendering dated April 28, 1918, by Schell Lewis, of
proposed wrought iron entrance gates for Villa Turicum.
My brother stumbled across the Villa Turicum
website and sent it to our
entire family. I found it fascinating as we grew up in Lake Forest, first on Westleigh Road then later Mayflower Road. Anyway, we used to
play on the 'old McCormick estate' all the time. I am not sure what it
looks like these days, but I can remember the pool. It was literally in
the lake, yet still
had the shape. The pool house (I think that is what it was), that we were convinced was haunted. Although there
was graffiti everywhere, I could tell in it's day was quite something as there were
still remnants of beautiful
cornicing and high ceilings. I also remember the stairs leading down to
pool with the shells that were the trickling fountain. The main house was
completely gone yet there were still parts of the formal garden. My dog
once fell into the pond thinking the moss, that had covered the surface,
grass. I had often wondered what the main house looked like and thanks to
your website I now know it was everything I had dreamed it was, a grand
and glorious mansion. Also, there was a story about how before the main
house was finished a clairvoyant told Mrs. McCormick that if she spent
in her new house she would never wake up alive. So rumour
has it she never spent one night in her new house, apparently she only
slept in the coach house…
— Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick is the reincarnation of the first wife
according to the "Chicago
Herald's" report of a fashionable dinner, where the former wife of Mr.
Harold F. McCormick made the revelation. Mrs. McCormick's experiences as a
wife of TutankHamen
were hardly less interesting than her experiences in her second
incarnation. Born the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in
the world, she soon became the social queen of Chicago.
During the past eight years, Mrs. McCormick has lived most of her time in Zurich, Switzerland,
where she studied psychoanalysis.