BEVERLY SHORES | In 1933, Chicago played host to the World's Fair, themed "A Century of Progress."
Now, some 74 years later, five of the most famous structures built for the international showcase are undergoing restoration to keep them standing for decades, or even centuries.
The World's Fair houses, along Lake Michigan in Beverly Shores, were brought by barge to the dunes in 1935 after the end of the fair by developer Robert Bartlett, who hoped to lure urban dwellers to the resort town.
The five structures barely stood the test of time and the harshness of the elements. Rotting wood, broken glass and slipping foundations left once elegant and futuristic lakefront homes in desperate need of restoration.
In 1997, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation began conversations on how to bring the Wieboldt-Rostone House, Florida Tropical House, Cypress Log Cabin, House of Tomorrow and Armco-Ferro House back to their original beauty.
"We started seeking private parties to pay for all of the restoration work, in return for a 30-year sublease," said Todd Zeiger, project manager and director of the Northern Regional Office of the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation. "The parties are responsible for getting the restoration complete through an approved plan, and then they implement the plan by either hiring subcontractors or getting it done themselves."
The homes are now in various stages of restoration.
Only one home is left for interested restoration parties -- the House of Tomorrow. Zeiger said the Cypress Log Cabin is scheduled for completion this fall.
Flint Alm and his wife, Jamie, of Crown Point, have been restoring the home for the past 3 1/2 years and said it is a labor of love.
"I know that it looks like hell now, but it really looked terrible before," Flint Alm joked as he walked through the home as crews outside set cypress logs brought in from Florida.
Alm said more than 100 interested couples who passed on the opportunity to restore the home.
"They didn't just say no, they said hell no because of the condition of this house. The floor was all up and down, and the foundation was falling apart so bad that the state said it would fall apart if we tried to lift it up. So we had to take it apart in four sections that are sitting out back," Alm said.
But Alm and his wife, owners of a plumbing business, say they chose to head up the work because of the location and the incredible opportunity. They have to fulfill state requirements for restoration on the front of the home, but in the back have done a remodel, adding bedrooms and making the space more livable.
Zeiger says that the other homes are progressing as well.
"The Armco-Ferro House has about 80 to 90 percent of its structure repair completed, and they're about a year out. There was a lot more structural work than expected. A steelworker apprentice program has helped out that project."
"The Rostone House is about 18 months out and there was significant structural issues and about 2 feet of roofing material they have to remove."
"The Florida House is almost done outside, and the inside is about 12 months out," he said.
Zeiger says the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation is currently accepting proposals for the House of Tomorrow, and on Oct. 6 and 7, the park service will have an open house for the Florida House and Cypress Log Cabin.
"It will be a limited-ticket event, but part of our agreement with the owners is that once a year the homes will be open to the public for tours," Zeiger said.
TO LEARN MORE
The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana is accepting proposals for parties interested in taking on the House of Tomorrow. For more information about tours or the sublease of the House of Tomorrow, e-mail Todd Zeiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.