The Tropics Come to Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair

The_Florida_Tropical_House

People got a taste of Florida’s subtropical architecture miles away from the sunny beaches at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago with Robert Law Weed’s Florida Tropical House. Officially known as A Century of Progress International Exposition, the 1933 World’s Fair theme explored the impact of scientific discoveries on society. The international fair included various interactive exhibits such as “Foreign Villages” and buildings dedicated to technological achievements.

1933 Worlds FairPanorama of World’s Fair, Chicago, 1933. Photo Courtesy: The Library of Congress (Click to Enlarge)

One of the most interesting and popular exhibits was the Homes of Tomorrow Exposition, which examined modern technological innovations and designs in architecture and the use of new building materials. Several architects and firms were invited to create “model” life-size homes. Each house was designed with a larger picture in mind. For Miami architect Weed, the Florida Tropical House was a prototype of the Art Deco/Streamline Moderne style that is synonymous with Miami Beach and South Florida living in the 1930s.

Robert Law Weed, a native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, moved to Miami in 1919. Weed trained under noted architect Richard Kiehnel of the firm Kiehnel & Elliott and Weed later opened his private practice in 1922. His local works included the Boulevard Shops on Biscayne Boulevard and the original Burdine’s store on Lincoln Road (now ArtCenter/SouthFlorida). In 1944, Weed was hired to re-envision the University of Miami campus alongside Marion Manley. For the World’s Fair, he created a home that advertised Florida as America’s winter getaway to promote tourism and interest in the state.

The house was specifically designed to accommodate Florida’s subtropical climate. The house included a two story living room with an overlooking balcony, a tile paved loggia, cantilevered slabs, and a sun deck, living deck, and recreation deck on the roof. Thus the idea was to integrate both the inside and outside environments. The house was built on waterproof materials native to Florida such as travertine, limestone, and clay.

Florida Tropical House_Northwest Indiana Times

 

Florida_Tropical_House_interiorInterior. Photo Courtesy: The Library of Congress

After the World’s Fair ended in 1934, real estate developer Robert Bartlett purchased five of the homes featured in the exposition including the Florida Tropical House and moved four of the houses by barge in 1935 to Beverly Shores, Indiana along Lake Front Drive which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Bartlett believed that these houses would generate potential interest in a resort community.

In 1986 the “Beverly Shores-Century of Progress Architectural District” was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1997, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation began talks on how to restore the houses from decades of weather damage. Private parties began paying for restoration in return for a 30-year sublease. These days the houses offer limited tours for interested visitors.

-Marvin Aguilar

 

 

 

 

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