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The Century of Progress International Exposition, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933–1934, may have been celebrating the city’s past (it commemorated Chicago’s centennial), but its exhibits heralded the future, a time of wonder that was difficult to conceive in the midst of the Great Depression. Among the most dramatic—and popular—of these exhibits were the twelve “Homes of Tomorrow,” displayed as part of the Home and Industrial Arts Group, each with one or more corporate sponsors showing off its wares and expertise. All quite different from one another, the houses showcased new materials, innovative designs, and engineering techniques. Ideally, each could be mass-produced and built affordably for the average American family; however, not all the houses met those criteria. Several featured various methods of steel construction, but the only one that has survived is the Armco-Ferro House, designed by Robert Smith Jr. of Cleveland, Ohio.
The two-story Armco-Ferro House has no frame; rather, corrugated steel panels are bolted together. They, in turn, are clad with porcelain-enameled steel panels produced by the Ferro Enamel Corporation. Surrounding the roof is a parapet, and centered on the roof’s flat surface, next to the chimney, is a third-story sunroom. The main north facade features a projecting entrance bay. From the top of its first-floor level and extending east to the northeast corner of the house is a canopy over a concrete patio. A porch was added to the rear the second year of the Fair, replacing a small entrance portico. Most of the industrial steel-framed windows have twelve lights; those in the center bay have twenty. The interior of the house was somewhat based on a traditional foursquare, with four rooms on the first floor. The four rooms became five when the southeast corner space, originally intended as a garage, was enclosed and turned into a study for the 1934 Fair season. The second floor has four rooms and a bath.
In 1935, developer Robert Bartlett moved five of the Century of Progress houses to Beverly Shores, a development along Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, in hopes of stirring interest in his subdivision, which his father had started in the late 1920s, just before the Depression. All five, battered by the lakeshore winters, fell into disrepair and were in danger of total deterioration or demolition. Today, through a partnership between the National Park Service (on property now part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) and Indiana Landmarks, the houses are either restored or undergoing restoration and are available for long-term lease under strict covenants.
The Armco-Ferro House is often cited as inspiration for the prefabricated houses of the Lustron Corporation after World War II, which may be true in regard to material, but the latter used a steel frame. Incidentally, several Lustron houses were also constructed in Beverly Shores.
Ali, Maria F., “Armco-Ferro-Mayflower House,” Porter County, Indiana. Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1994. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS No. IN-244.)
Partsch, Dorinda, “Beverly Shores–Century of Progress Architectural District,” Porter County, Indiana. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1985. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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