Glessner House Museum receives Driehaus Award

On Saturday October 17, 2015, Glessner House Museum was presented with the President’s Award for Stewardship from Landmarks Illinois during the annual Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards.  The award recognized five decades of stewardship for the building since its rescue from demolition in 1966. 

Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald, in presenting award, noted how the museum serves as a model for its work in restoration, preservation, and interpretation.  Accepting the award on behalf of the museum was William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator, whose acceptance speech is presented in full below.

On behalf of the board of directors and the staff of Glessner House Museum, I would like to thank the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Landmarks Illinois for this award and the recognition of the many people who have served as stewards of Glessner House for half a century.

Fifty years ago, Glessner house sat vacant and for sale and there was a very real threat of demolition.  In spite of its national significance and its designation as a Chicago landmark, which at that time was purely honorary, the building could easily have been lost to the wrecker’s ball.

But 1966 was also the year of passage for the National Historic Preservation Act and it was in that year that a small group of individuals came together with a dream not only to preserve the building but also to preserve the architectural legacy of Chicago, which was disappearing at an alarming rate at that time.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Glessner House was truly at the heart of the preservation movement in Chicago and the state.  Within its walls could be found the first offices of Landmarks Illinois, as well as those of the Chicago Chapter AIA, Inland Architect, and the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation which had been formed specifically to save the building.  The concept for the first historic landmark district in the city was born there as well, when the idea of preserving the surrounding Prairie Avenue district was considered.

In time, the function of the building changed and the idea of an accurately furnished historic house museum evolved.  Glessner descendants returned not only furniture and decorative arts, but also an amazing archive of materials to help interpret the house and its broader context within Chicago history.  Chicago’s oldest building, the Clarke House Museum, came under our purview as well. 

During all these years, countless individuals have contributed to the success and vibrancy of the institution.  Dedicated volunteers have done everything from coordinating fundraising events to clearing rubbish out of the house and from organizing our archival collection to stuffing envelopes.  Enthusiastic docents have given thousands of tours as the “public face” of the museum, and numerous individuals and foundations have stepped forward to provide financial support as members and donors. 

Talented craftsmen have lavished attention on every detail of the house.  They often donate their talents because they feel it is a privilege to work on such a significant structure.  The board and staff have shaped the vision for the institution from education and interpretation to programming and restoration. 

It has been my privilege every morning for the past eight years to enter through the front doors of this extraordinary building.  Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at the architecture, the collection of decorative arts, and the remarkable lives of the Glessner family.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than sharing those treasures with our visitors.  We look forward to sharing them with all of you as we embark upon our next fifty years.  Thank you.

The award, which is based on terra cotta ornament from the Methodist Book Concern building at 12-14 W. Washington St. (Harry Bergen Wheelock, architect, 1899) will soon be placed on display in our visitor’s center for all to enjoy.