Richard H. Driehaus

Glessner House Museum - A Top 10 List for 2012

It seems as though “Top 10” lists are all the rage these days; any number of them have surfaced as the year 2012 draws to a close.  The museum was the subject of at least two such lists during the year.  Illinois Meetings and Events magazine featured a “10 Things You Don’t Know About Glessner House Museum” in their Fall 2012 issue, focusing primarily on the site as a venue for weddings and events.  Soon after, Choose Chicago (the city’s main tourism website) featured a blog article entitled “10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Glessner House.”

The year 2012 was one of the most exciting and successful in the museum’s history, so it seems only appropriate that we add our own Top 10 list to the mix, summarizing the highlights of an eventful and memorable year. 

1.  Of Dolls and Murder
On March 25, we celebrated the 134th birthday of Frances Glessner Lee with the Chicago premiere of an independent film entitled “Of Dolls and Murder.”  The feature length film, narrated by John Waters, focused on legal medicine, i.e. homicide investigation, and Lee’s significant contributions to the field, including the creation of nearly 20 meticulously detailed miniature crime scenes, which she named “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.”  Lee was appointed the first female state police captain in the U.S. in recognition of her efforts, and earned the respect of many, including Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, who attended one of the seminars she sponsored at Harvard University.
Pictured above:  “Of Dolls and Murder” producer John Kurtis Dehn and director/writer Susan Marks posing in the coach house with Frances Lee’s traveling “Nutshells” carrying case (Glessner House Museum collection). 

2.  Vintage Car Show
The 1800 block of Prairie Avenue was transformed on Sunday June 24 when nineteen vintage automobiles, all dating to 1936 or earlier, drove on to the street for a car show that attracted many hundreds of attendees.  The stunning automobiles ranged from an all brass 1910 Ford Model T to a 1936 Chrysler Airflow Coupe. A highlight of the show was the inclusion of two Pierce Arrows from the collection of Richard H. Driehaus, dating to 1927 and 1931.  (The Glessners preferred Pierce Arrows after acquiring their first model in 1906).
Pictured above:  1931 Pierce Arrow Model 41 Dual Cowl Phaeton, courtesy of Richard H. Driehaus.

3.  Pierre Boulez
On July 19, Maestro Pierre Boulez, conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony, and one of the most renowned conductors in the world, came to Glessner for a private tour.  He spent over an hour touring the museum with Executive Director William Tyre, who shared stories of the Glessners and their many years of support for the Chicago Symphony from the time of its founding in 1891.
Pictured above:  Maestro Boulez poses beside the Glessners’ 1887 Steinway piano in the recently restored parlor.

4.  Glessner Family Reunion
The first weekend of August served as a wonderful homecoming for the Glessner family – 26 descendants and friends gathered at the house for a three-day reunion, the first of its kind ever held at the museum.  Four generations of the family were present ranging in age from 5 to 85, including three great-grandchildren who shared memories of John Glessner from their early years.  Friday events included an opening dinner, tours of the house (several of those present had never been to Chicago before), and a presentation on the life of John Glessner.  Saturday tours included the CAF river cruise, Tiffany in Chicago, and a tour of Second Presbyterian where the Glessners’ daughter-in-law Alice Hamlin Glessner was a member.  The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a special visit to the Glessners’ gravesite in Graceland Cemetery.
Pictured above:  Reunion attendees gather on the curved porch on Friday August 3rd, recreating the famous view of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class taken in 1902.

5.  125th Anniversary Gala Celebration
The night of September 13th was one of the most memorable ever in the 46 year history of the Museum.  On that evening, more than 200 members, supporters, and friends of the museum gathered in the Grainger Ballroom at Symphony Center to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the completion of Glessner House.  The event was generously underwritten by a gift from Richard H. Driehaus and netted $59,500 for restoration projects.  A highlight of the event was a presentation by Board President Rolf Achilles and Executive Director William Tyre, honoring those individuals who helped to save the house from demolition in 1966.
Pictured above:  Executive Director William Tyre (at the podium) and Board President Rolf Achilles (at far right) with the gala honorees.  Photo by Tim Walters Photography.

6.  The White City
Friday September 28 saw the production of The White City: A Musical in the “coach house theatre.”  Co-sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, the event drew more than 100 people to watch a moving musical adaptation of the dramatic story of the creation of the World’s Columbian Exposition. 
Pictured above:  John Root (portrayed by Doug Pawlik), playwright June Finfer, and Daniel Burnham (portrayed by Jon Steinhagen).

7.  Open House Chicago
Over the weekend of October 13th and 14th, nearly 1,700 people (the vast majority of whom had never been to the museum) were treated to tours of rarely seen spaces in the museum.  The focus of the special tours, part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Open House Chicago, was the servants’ portion of the building.  Attendees had the opportunity to see the haylofts, dovecotes, male and female servants’ quarters, and kitchen wing.  The museum was one of several sites in the Prairie Avenue District open for tours, other sites including Clarke House, Second Presbyterian Church, the Keith House, and the Wheeler Mansion. 
Pictured above:  Dovecote facing 18th Street over the coach house, as seen from the hayloft.

8.  Glessner House at 125 Symposium
The museum partnered with the Victorian Society in America to host a symposium celebrating the 125th anniversary of Glessner House.  Seven speakers from across Chicago and the country gathered for the day long symposium on Saturday November 10th which focused on H. H. Richardson, the interior decoration of the house, and its preservation in the 1960s.  The symposium was preceded by an opening reception the previous evening with Richardson-scholar Kenneth Breisch presenting a talk on the architect’s influence across America.
Pictured above:  Symposium speakers Ted Hild, Kevin Harrington, Elaine Harrington, James F. O’Gorman, and Rolf Achilles.  Not pictured Mary Alice Molloy and Monica Obniski.

9.  The John J. Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History
In October, the museum accepted an extraordinary gift from long-time supporter Jack Simmerling.  The gift consisted of an amazing collection of building fragments, artwork, photographs, and documents relating to the Prairie Avenue neighborhood collected over a period of more than 60 years.  Jack witnessed the loss of many of the houses first-hand, personally rescuing the fragments himself, and recording the houses utilizing his considerable talents as an artist.  Jamie Cook, of the architectural firm of Krueck & Sexton is working with the museum to create plans to redevelop the second floor of the coach house as a gallery to display this unique and important collection documenting the history of Chicago’s first Gold Coast.
Pictured above:  A section of wall paneling from the library of the Max Meyer house at 2009 S. Prairie Avenue, designed by Burnham & Root in 1888.  Demolished 1955. 

10.  125th Anniversary Fund
In June 2011, the museum board established the 125th Anniversary Fund, with the goal of raising $125,000 for restoration projects.  A generous $50,000 challenge grant from Richard H. Driehaus kick-started the fund and by December 2012, a total of $209,000 had been raised.  Numerous projects will be undertaken in the next few years including the recreation of the porte cochere doors, the restoration of the corner guestroom, the renovation of the guest bathroom, and much more.  In the fall of 2012, an additional anonymous gift in the amount of $100,000 was received by the museum to fund a new geothermal heating and air conditioning system, something that has been sorely needed for many years.
Pictured above:  The first project funded by the 125th Anniversary Fund was the recreation of the banquette in the parlor.