By Madeline Bilis
March 01, 2019
Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

There’s plenty of overnight camping available at Indiana Dunes National Park, which opened last month as the country’s 61st. But for those who’d prefer a longer-term stay, there’s a funky-looking house overlooking Lake Michigan for rent inside the park — free of charge.

Known as the House of Tomorrow, the glass-and-steel structure was revolutionary when it was built. Midwesterners first caught a glimpse of the place at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair, marveling at its futuristic features like central air conditioning and a dishwasher. In recent years, though, the place has fallen into disrepair — which is why Indiana Landmarks is hoping someone will come along and restore it.

Lee Lewellen/Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

The deal works like this: The House of Tomorrow’s new inhabitants can sign a sublease to live there rent-free for 50 years. However, they have to commit to restoring and preserving the place, which will cost a pretty penny. Indiana Landmarks estimates the renovation will cost between $2.5 and $3 million.

“It’s a fairly involved project,” said Todd Zeiger, director of Indiana Landmarks’s northern regional office. “It’s complicated because it’s a 12-sided house.”

Collection of Steven R. Shook/Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

Indeed, the duodecagon designed by architect George Fred Keck was meant to represent the future of housing in America. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it was one of the first homes to employ floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls, which were thought to have inspired architects like Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe, as well as a push-button detached garage and an iceless refrigerator. The first floor also originally housed an airplane hangar, as the forward-looking World’s Fair participants assumed families of the future would all own airplanes.

Chicago History Museum/Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

The House of Tomorrow was one of five “Century of Progress”-themed homes built for the World’s Fair, along with ones with names like the Florida Tropical House and the Cypress Log Cabin. According to the National Park Service, when the fair came to a close, a developer named Robert Bartlett moved all five houses to the sand dunes near Beverly Shores, Indiana, where they now stand. Bartlett sought to convert the structures into a swanky resort community, but the plans never materialized. Instead, the geometric abodes sat empty until the early aughts, when some were subleased and restored. The House of Tomorrow is the last of the homes to be fixed up, per Indiana Landmarks.

Hedrich Blessing/Chicago History Museum/Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

“The most important thing is restoring Keck’s original vision for the house from 1933,” said Zeiger. “Combining that with the sympathetic changes that would make this a new house of tomorrow. What sort of new technology can we bring into the renovation to allow it to last for another 100 years?”

It seems admirers of modernism, historic preservation, and outdoor recreation have met their match. Interested parties are invited to submit applications by April 5.

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