No visit to Jim Morrow's All-Steel Historic Home would be complete without a swing past the Century of Progress Architectural District in nearby Beverly Shores, where you can see four model homes from the 1933 World's Fair. It's a trip back to the future and a glimpse of Lustron's inspiration.
The four houses were part of a group of homes built to showcase advanced technology and design. They include what Morrow calls the "granddaddy of Lustron," the Armco-Ferro House, a frameless two-story made of the same material Lustron used--enamel-coated steel. Also here: the House of Tomorrow, a 12-sided steel and glass "wedding cake" with its own airplane hangar, designed by Chicago brothers George and William Keck; the Wieboldt-Rostone House, an art deco two-story made of an experimental shale and limestone mix that turned out to be "the stone equivalent of plywood" and had to be covered over after starting to disintegrate; and the Florida Tropical House, a faded pink concrete dream with decks and porthole windows and spectacular views of the lake. A fifth house, the Cypress Log Cabin, is hidden by shrubs.
The World's Fair homes were brought to the Indiana Dunes 60 years ago by Robert Bartlett, a real estate developer looking for a way to promote the resort community he was building in Beverly Shores. The houses were moved by truck and barge, set up on the beach, and eventually sold as individual dwellings. When this stretch of beach became the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966, the National Park Service acquired them. The park's science division used the Wieboldt-Rostone House for a time; the others have been leased as private residences.
The Wieboldt-Rostone House is vacant and in need of substantial repairs. (It looks like a dune is rising in the living room.) But if someone with a taste for 20th-century history and an appetite for preservation is looking for fabulous digs, the Florida Tropical House may soon be available. It was vacated last fall when its previous tenant's lease ran out. The National Park Service is in the process of deciding the long-term fate of the houses.
Except for rarely scheduled ranger-guided tours, there is no access to the inside of the houses; those rented must be viewed from the road only. To get there, take Kemil Road east from the national park's Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center (Kemil Road becomes State Park Road) and turn right at Lake Front Drive. You'll pass three Lustron Homes on the way. A free, one-page auto tour guide is available at Morrow's house or at the park's visitor center (219-926-7561).
For a drive-by experience closer to home, Lustron scholar Tom Fetters recommends a trip to his town, Lombard, or Brookfield. Fetters says Lombard has 36 Lustron houses, including five on the 200 block of N. Garfield Street. We spotted two across the street from each other at the corner of Harrison Road and Elizabeth Street. In Brookfield, Fetters says, look for Lustrons just south of the Burlington Northern tracks, on streets like Park, Elm, Arthur, and Madison. A two-bedroom, yellow Lustron on the corner of Forest and Shields is on the market for $112,000 (call Joanne Brill at 708-579-5100 for information).
North of the city, check out Stonegate Circle in Lincolnshire, where ten recognizable Lustrons in various stages of alteration ring a cul-de-sac. Stonegate Circle is off Illinois 22, one-quarter mile east of Milwaukee Avenue.