PORTER — More than 300 people got a peek Saturday at some historical homes and buildings in the dunes not usually open to the public.
The Logs to Lustrons Tour featured more than a dozen historically and culturally significant structures, from Porter to Beverly Shores, including a “Swedish folk” farmhouse that was originally a log cabin, the U.S. Steel-built Good Fellow Lodge and two prefabricated, enameled-steel homes built in 1950 by the Lustron Corp.
The tour, now in its third year, was hosted by the Indiana Landmarks, in partnership with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Dunes National Park Association. The tour highlighted landmark buildings spanning a century of architecture, including restored residences and vacant buildings in need of renovation and use.
Ranger Cliff Goins said the first Logs to Lustrons was launched in 2016, and coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the centennial celebration of the National Park System.
For two decades, Indiana Landmarks has partnered with IDNL, which owns the properties, to lease and sublease some of the structures to accomplish needed renovations.
Visitors took the two-hour bus tours Saturday at their own pace, getting off the bus at sites of interest or skipping sites as they chose, all while receiving on-site information about the buildings and homes from park rangers and volunteers.
Ranger Joe Gruzalski guided tourists at the Solomon Enclave, a Beverly Shores beachfront home composed of three separate, yet identical, homes designed and built in 1948 by Chicago architect Louis Solomon. The 2,000-square-foot homes, now vacant, were used as summer homes that maximized privacy and featured unparalleled views of Lake Michigan.
“It’s so cool we’re able to get into these homes that are usually never open,” said Gruzalski, of Tinley Park, Illinois. “I haven’t even seen them.”
Lisa Stout and Maria Nevarez drove from Downers Grove, Illinois, with friends, for the tour.
“We love architecture,” said Nevarez, who noted she is originally from the Region as a native of East Chicago. “But this is all new to me. It’s an awesome experience.”
While two of the homes on the tour were renovated and are occupied by lessees, the rest are vacant and awaiting restoration.
Todd Zeiger, Indiana Landmarks’ northern regional office director, said his group, the IDNL and the DNPA are discussing the best ways to preserve and utilize some of the vacant, yet historically and culturally significant, homes in the park.
“It’s an unusual partnership not found across the country,” Zeiger said.
Zeiger said the three groups hope to renovate some of the vacant homes to maximize “public benefit” while “bringing dollars to the projects.”
One model being discussed is restoring the homes and utilizing them as short-term rental vacation properties.
“We think there is a public benefit to having them restored, opened and used,” Zeiger said. “We are about six months to a solid plan as to what that looks like.”
Zeiger said many guests on the tour, particularly those from out of town, were unaware the historical buildings and homes existed in the park.
“You don’t tour where you live,” Zeiger said. “The beauty of the park and the breadth of the architecture has been an eye-opening experience for a lot of folks. That’s the awareness we’re trying to build that is part of our mission.”