~ Villa Turicum ~




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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 Phillips Academy in Andover, MA (1922-1930), and the University of IL at Champaign-Urbana (1921-1933). Arthur Miller of the Lake Forest College Library and I recently led a site tour sponsored by the Chicago Botanic 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 landscape architecture.








:: The Villa Exteriors ::



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Villa Turicum


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West elevation c. 1918


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East elevation - facing Lake Michigan.


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The Loggia


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The loggia & terrace, with Janet Scudder’s 1910 Shell Girl fountain.


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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.


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View from the first terrace toward the beach and Lake Michigan.


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A reverse view from the succeeding terrace and the beginning of the water cascade; this fountain with a pelican and twin alligators.

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Detail of the pelican and alligators.



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Detail of the southeast (library) corner of the house.


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Detail of the south front.


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South Garden Elevation


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South Promenade Terrace


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South Promenade Terrace in 1928


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The vista south of the house, with the Tea House in the distance.


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View of the south garden parterres from the second floor of Villa Turicum.


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The lily pool garden in full bloom.


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Herms in the lily pool garden.


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North Interior Court

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The cut-flower & vegetable gardens.


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Aerial View of Villa Turicum


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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)


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Aerial view of the watercourse and eastern exposure. (The lily pond and sunken gardens are visible at the top of this image.)



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Villa Turicum c. 1932


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A rendering dated April 28, 1918, by Schell Lewis, of proposed wrought iron entrance gates for Villa Turicum.


:: Ruin ::






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Dear Todd,

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 the
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, was
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 one night
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…

Many thanks,
J. G.        





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•(7) Addendum


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The Villa Turicum Blog

Mrs. McC

Lake Forest – Lake Bluff Historical Society


Lake Forest Preservation Foundation


The Benjamin Marshall Society


Zachary Taylor Davis












CHICAGO — Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick is the reincarnation of the first wife of Tutank Hamen, 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 Tutank Hamen 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.


International Herald Tribune, February 24, 1923



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