South Side Couple Renovates Historic ‘House of the Future’

THE MONEY PIT: When a South Side couple agreed to restore a “house of the future” from the 1933–34 world’s fair in exchange for a free long-term sublease, they had little idea how thoroughly they—and their savings—would be absorbed by the past

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PHOTO GALLERY »
The Armco-Ferro House, then and now

Currently, command central for the project is a future bedroom that on the day of my visit features dry-wall dust, extension cords, and debris. As Christoph and I talk, he shows me hundreds of digital photos documenting stages of the renovation. That’s when he asks whether I think he’s crazy. I hesitate, looking around, knowing that the interior will retain little of the historic house (the original kitchen was too small to accommodate a modern refrigerator) and that the project is still a year or more away from completion. To one side of us, just 60 feet away, the House of Tomorrow sits boarded up, an eyesore. Work is continuing slowly on the Wieboldt-Rostone House, but it is temporarily sided in plywood, too. And down the road, the Cypress Log Cabin, the residence Christoph first considered, has been fully restored for two years and now is occupied. In answer to his question, I want to shout: “Yes! You’re crazy!” But I also want things to work out for this well-meaning, hard-working couple—both active and vibrant—who really had no idea what they were getting into. “They have an amazing view on this,” says Zeiger of Indiana Landmarks. “They are spending resources, time, and effort to make sure the house lasts a hundred years. Hats off to them—they’ve stayed with it.”

There are still obstacles and unanticipated costs to face: The historic area has no water service; Beverly Shores has told the Lichtenfelds they’ll have to pony up $18,000 for access. (The couple is appealing.) They also have to settle on an exterior that Indiana Landmarks will approve, since the original material—painted enamel—is no longer practical. (They are considering painted corrugated steel panels.) The Lichtenfelds have eaten into more than five years of their 30-year sublease, though they have yet to occupy the home, and there is no guarantee the lease will be renewed for their children. The family’s investment is now three times the original budget.

Still, even that restored cypress cabin doesn’t outwardly disturb Christoph’s equanimity. “I made a big mistake,” he says matter-of-factly. “Absolutely.”

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When I talked to him by phone recently on a hot summer day, Christoph sounded as upbeat and pragmatic as ever. “We had a milestone this week: electricity in the house!” he said. What’s more, his six adult children and six grandchildren were beginning to see what he had seen all along. “They had questioned why we were saving this place. But now they’re getting pretty excited.” Charlotte, he told me, was taking classes to keep her physical therapist’s license in anticipation of soon going back to work.

“Guess what I’m doing today?” he asked. “I’m a big soccer fan, and I’m watching three World Cup games down in the basement. It’s very cool down here.”

Yes, the views from the rooftop deck are terrific. But sometimes a man just wants to enjoy his home, his way, however long it takes.

The Century of Progress homes are open for tours once a year: October 23rd and 24th in 2010. The tours always sell out; for reservations, contact Jennifer Gregor at jgregor@indianalandmarks.org.

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