Harold McCormick Mansion, Nathaniel Jones Mansion, General Joseph T. Torrence Mansion, Edith Rockefeller McCormick Mansion
Life Span: 1883-1953
Location: No. 88 Bellevue Place (After 1909, 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive)
Architect: Solon S. Beman
Inter Ocean, October 18, 1885
BUILDING PERMITS: Yesterday N. S. Jones took out a permit for his three-story $75,000 mansion at 88 Bellevue place.
Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1890 (Excerpt)
“NAT” JONES’ FIRM IS BROKEN UP.
The Partners in the Noted New York Bear House Separate.
Mr. Jones completed negotiations for the sale of of his magnificent palace on Lake Short drive and Bellevue place May 10, the reason for the sale being Mr. Jones’ determination to live in New York, where he had gone two years before. The purchaser of the property is Gen. Joseph T. Torrence and the price paid was $150,000. The palace cost originally $225,000, but Mr. Jones was anxious to sell it, so that he might reside in New York.
Chicago Tribune, January 14, 1894
Gen. Joseph T. Torrence has just completed the erection of a fence around his residence at the corner of the Lake Shore drive and Bellevue place that for beauty and elaborateness of design has no equal in this country, nor, it is claimed, in Europe. That the fences around the Vanderbilt, Huntington, and Havemeyer residences in New York, which have hitherto been considered the finest in the country, are not to be compared with it, designers who have seen them all agree. The fence, which is constructed of wrought iron and steel, was designed by Gen. Torrence himself and A.P. Davis. Indeed, Gen. Torrence’s taste is to be seen in nearly everything around the place. He designs his own carriages and most of his furniture.
The fence which surrounds the grounds is 450 feet in length and 10 feet in height from the stonework to the topmost points. The bars, 1¼ inches square, are placed 4½ inches apart, alternate bars being only 4½ feet in height. At intervals of twenty feet are placed posts eighteen inches square and fifteen feet in height. Each post is surmounted by a handsome lamp containing an electric light.
The striking feature of the whole structure are the magnificent gates on Bellevue place. These present an imposing appearance as seen on approaching from the north on the Lake Shore drive. The view is shut off on approaching from the south. The gates, which were on exhibition last summer in Manufactures Building at the World’s Fair, represent the highest achievement of the blacksmith’s art. Experts in ornamental ironwork say that in beauty of design and delicacy of finish nothing anywhere has been produced to equal them. What the French blacksmith has attained in the fifteenth century and the German in a hundred years later, when art in iron had reached its meridian, is here found in perfection, supplemented by a refinement in which design and a superiority in construction which give the work a distinctly American character. The style rococo, a fashion of German patronage, but modified and modernized. Rococo, is a vulgarization of the rocaile of France. It is one of many German styles that came in about the seventeenth century. It was suggested by ornament other than iron in the residence of the Grand Duke of Baden at Brischal. The style in this gate is idealized and refined, introducing natural forms and flowers. The elements of the design are strictly original. The refinement and elkegance of the work stamp it as distinctly American.
The main gateway with its side panels is thirty-seven feet in height, twenty-three feet in length, and weighs ten tons. It is constructed of Swedish and Norway iron and open hearth, low grade steel. The masks, faces, and highly ornamental parts of the gate are executed in the latter metal, a strictly American product, its extraordinary ductility making its use possible in the producing of delicate designs. In all European work such ornaments have heretofore been produced in cast iron, and of course are of much less artistic value.
The gates are wrought throughout by hand., a forge, an anvil, a hammer, and a pair of tongs being the only tools used. The classic head which is the central feature over the lintel and the cherub faces in the two side panels are hammered out of plates of steel five-eighths of an inch in thickness with hammer and chisel. Underneath the central head over the lintel is an escutcheon bearing an ornamental letter T. The roses, garlands, and other floral ornaments are marvels of delicate workmanship. Each bud and flower is cut out of a globe of solid metal, each wreath and leaf is shaped by hand. No rivets are used either to hold it in place or to fix the blossom in its stem. The use of straps, bolts, bars, and tie wires to hold the parts together and to sustain the structure, so freely indulged by the foreign smnith and accepted unhesitatingly by his customer, the noticeable use of which is the great gates of the German exhibit detracted so much from their beauty, is not tolerated in the work of the American artisan. There is an entire absence of such devices in the Torrence gateway.
One of the most beautiful features of the gate are the panels in the posts of the main gateways. These panels are a combination of the rococo and renaissance. The cherub face at the top of the panel is shaped entirely by a hammer in the hands of the blacksmith.
He has no mold or form, nothing but the eye to guide him and nothing but his own skill to insure a reproduction of the design. Each gatepost is surmounted by a vase.
Several months were consumed in formulating the design for the gateway and preparing the working drawings, after which their helpers hammered out upon their anvils the masks, wreaths, escutcheons, garlands, and scrolls, which were in turn brought together and welded in place, over nine months being required to complete the structure.
On either side of the center gate are side gates, each pair being 17 feet wide and 29 feet in height, the gates proper being 14½ feet high and 12 feet wide. The design is these gates is in harmony with the main gateway. Half a score of workmen were kept busy for six months in producing each pair. Constructed inside the gatepost at the east is a neatky designed mail-box.
Ten years ago art metal work in the United States was an “infant industry,” the metal equipment of the Rookery Building, erected in 1885-‘6, being the first contract let of sufficient importance to warrant a separate and distinct specification for “ornamental iron.” Within this period the growth and development have been marvelous. In no other country in the world is ornamental iron so generally used in buildings, especially those of the commercial class, as in this city, and in no other city on the continent has its enduring beauty been so fully recognized and appreciated in Chicago.
The factory where these gates were constructed employs a hundred of these art blacksmiths. They find steady employment and receive liberal wages.
Throughout France and German gates, grills, and balustrades of ornate iron are found in abundance, amny of them recognized masterpieces of the blacksmith’s art. Hinges, locks, and keys of wondrous beauty, wrought in medieval ages, remain to attest the skill of the workman who lingered lovingly over his art and who probably won but scant recompense as compared with the wages his follower demands and receives. Much of this old work, however, wins admiration as much if not more by reason of the mellowing influence of time and the evident patient struggle of the artesian to overcome difficulties which science has since removed than because of its real artistic merit, gauged by a modern standard, and it is no disparagement of the earnest smith of the seventeenth century to assert that, judged by this modern standard, the Torrence gateway is not only the peer of his best acievements but in many respects unequaled by any example of his handiwork.
Inter Ocean, September 21, 1898
The fine mansion left by the late General Joseph T. Torrence, at No. 88 Bellevue place, is about to pass into the hands of Harold F. McCormick, vice president of the McCormick Harvesting Machine company. The negotiations for the sale of the property are practically concluded, although the papers asre not signed yet.
Mrs. Harold McCormick is the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, and Mr. and Mrs. McCormick will make the Torrence mansion their future home.
The estate of General Torrence is represented in the matter by the Illinois Trust and Savings bank, as administrator. Mrs. Jennie Torrence Magoun of New York, the General’s daughter is the heir. The price to be paid for the property has not been made public, but it is reported to be much below the figure at which its late owner held his home. The lot is 145 by 170 feet, facing Lake Shore drive and Bellevue place. Property in that part of the drive is valued from $600 to $700 a front foot, and the price of such a choice piece as the Torrence place is not likely to be far from $100,000. The house has been valued nearly as high. It is a four-story stone structure of solid and attractive appearance. The high iron fence that surrounds it, and which was in the German exhibit at the World’s Fair, has marked the Torrence homestead as one of the notable pieces of the North Side. That fence was a pride of the General, who had begun life as a blacksmith, and consequently took pleasure in fancy iron-work. He is said to have paid a small fortune for the fence.
The German exhibits in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building
Scientific American Supplement
July 22, 1893
Entrance to German Exhibits Exhibit
Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building
Same fence around Torrence Mansion
Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1921
Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, yesterday was granted a divorce from her husband, Harold F. McCormick, president of the International Harvester company.
Desertion was the charge made by his wife, admitted by the husband, and substantiated at a hearing in the Superior court by Mrs. McCormick herself and two servants.
It took less than fifty minutes from the time of the filing of the bill to conduct the legal proceedings which ended when Jufge Charles A. McDonald affixed his name to the decree. This legalized a separation which became publicly known last October when Mr. McCormick issued a formal statement announcing that he and his wife were living apart.
Big Array of Counsel.
Representing Mrs. McCormick was Charles S. Cutting, former judge of the Probate court. Counsel for Mr. McCormick included George A. Cooke, former justice of the Supreme court of Illinois; John P. Wilson, famous as a corporation lawyer, and Clarence S. Darrow, best known for his activity in cases in which labor unions and their leaders have been interested.
During the proceedings there was no mention of alimony or of settlement of property rights, although the suit, by its very nature, involved questions affecting two of the greatest fortunes in America. After the court had adjourned the lawyers declared that no legal settlement had been made.
It is understood, however, that both Mr. and Mrs. McCormick are to retain possession of all property held in their own names. Arrangements are to be made later as to the disposal of property in which noth have an undivided interest.
Mrs. McCormick Retains Home.
Mrs. McCormick, it is declared, will retain the McCormick residence at 1000 Lake Shore drive, while her husband will continue to reside in the country home in Lake Forest, one of the show places of the country. That is the arrangement as to residence made at the time of their separation and it is understood that it will continue. During the winter months Mr. McCormick, with his daughter, Muriel, and his son, Fowler, is living with his mother, Mrs. Cyrus McCormick Sr., in Rush street.
Civic and artistic enterprises which owe their principal support and in many cases their very existence to the munificence of the McCormicks are not to suffer by reason of the divorce. Principal among these is the Chicago grand opera. The relations between the McCormicks and the opera had already been arranged.1
It had been announced that with this year they would cease to be guarantors of the opera, on which they have spent something like $5,000,000. Both will continue, however, to support the opera with large contributions to the general guarantee fund, and it is reported that they intend to give to it $3,000,000 of scenery and stage effects, which is their property.
Mrs. McCormick will continue her support of the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Zoological gardens, to which she has given $300,000.
No formal announcement of the definite plans was forthcoming last night, however.
Comes With Dramatic Suddenness.
While the divorce proceedings had been expected for some time, even before last October, when the separation was formally announced, the actual filing of the papers came with a suddenness which was almost dramatic. At 10:30 a.m. fiormer Judge Cutting appeared in the office of the clerk of the Superior court in the county building and filed the bill for divorce.
In the usual legal phraseology it set forth that “on the 27th day of May, 1918, Harold F. McCormick willfully deserted and absented himself from your oratrix without any reasonable cause, which desertion continued until the present time.”
Eight minutes later the attorneys fo Mr. McCormick appeared in the clerk’s office and giled his answer. This admitted that “since the day of May 27, 1918, he and the said complainant had lived separately and apart.”
Meantime Mrs. McCormick’ had cone to Judge McDonald’s court, where no proceedings had taken place for an hour. It was vacant except for the clerk and bailiff. Mrs. McCormick was accompanied only be her lawyers and the two servants who were her witnesses. Mr. McCormick did not appear in court.
Mrs. McCormick Testifies.
At 11:29 Judge McDonald took his seat on the bench and almost immediately Mrs. McCormick was called to the stand. She was dressed soberly in black seal and rabbit coat and black toque and wore no veil.
“State your name in full,” said former Judge Cutting.
“Edith Rockefeller McCormick,” was the answer.
Q.—Where do you reside? A.—1000 Lake Shore drive.
Q.—How long have you resided there? A.—Since August, 1897, except for periods which I have spent abroad.
Q.—When were you married and to whom? A.—November 26, 1895, to Harold F. McCormick.
Q.—How long did you live with him? A.—Until May 27, 1918.
Q.—On that date what happened? A.—He left me.
Left Her in Zurich.
Q.—Where were you on that occassion? A.—In Zurich, in Switzerland.
Q.—Did he give any reason for leaving you? A.—He gave no reason al all, and there was no reason.
Q.—What was the name of the hotel at Zurich at which you lived? A.—The Baure au lac.
Q.—Has he supported you since, or contributed any money for your support? A.—He has not supported me.
Q.—Has he contributed anything at all to your support? A.—Not one cent.
Q.—How did you conduct yourself toward him during the time you lived together? A.—In the manner that a wife should.
That was all Mrs. McCormick’s testimony. Her husband’s lawyers waived cross-examination.
Maid Corroborates Her.
Emma Buckel, a maid to Mrs. McCormick during her stay in Zurich, was the next witness. Her testimony was simply a corroboration of that of Mrs. McCormick. Again Mr. McCormick’s lawyers waived cross-examination.
Mrs. E. Beley, a house servant of the McCormicks for fourteen years, added her corroboration to that of Miss Buckel. She also was allowed to leave the stand without being forced to answer any questions from the McCormick attorneys.
The testimony was declared complete, and Judge McDonald, reaching for a pen, signed the decree, eleven minutes after the proceedings in the court had started. It was then 11:40 a.m.
Wedding a Noted Affair.
The McCormicks were married on Nov. 26, 1895, in the 5th avenue Baptist church in New York City. Mr. McCormick was abour 25 years old at the time and his wife was about the same age.
The wedding attracted widespread attention at the time as the union of two great fortunes. The bride was one of the four children of John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil magnate, whose fortune has been estimated as high as a billion. The bridegroom was a member of the Cyrus McCormick family, reaper manufacturers, now principal owners of the International Harvester company. Mr. McCormick was first treasurer and later succeeded his brother, Cyrus H. McCormick, as president of this company.
Home a Center of Social Life.
The McCormicks came to Chicago to live, occupying the home at 1000 Lake Shore drive, which has been the center of so many social activities. Both took a great interest in the civic and artistic activities of the city and were among the most generous contributors to its charities.
The part which both played in enabling Chicago to enjoy the highest grade of grand opera somewhat overshadowed their work in other fields, but there was hardly anything which had to do with the city’s social or artistic life in which they were not prominently identified.
Mrs. McCormick only recently bought land estimted as being worth $300,000, which she turned over to the forest preserve, for zoölogical gardens, which is planned to be one of the greatest in the world. She also was a generous contributor to the Chicago band, which aims to furnish popular music in the parks and outdoors.2
Goes to Europe for Health.
Eight years ago Mrs. McCormick was forced on account of her health to leave Chicago and for several years she made her home in Italy and Switzerland. While in Italy she showed her appreciation for the talent of Verdi by contributing $11,600 as a design for a statue of the composer. Most of her time, however, was spent in Zurich. She attributed the regaining of her health to synthetic psychology and took a great interest in it. She announced at one time that she intended to devote herself to promoting its cause.
It was during her stay in Switzerland that the estrangement took place. Rumors of it had preceded them when they finally returned ti the United States last fall. They came on different steamships.
Finally when they arrived in Chicago early in October Mr. McCormick answered the various rumors by making a formal statement that he and his wife are separated. Mr. McCormick was accompanied on his return to Chicago by his son, Harold Fowler McCormick. Muriel McCormick, the elder daughter, has also thrown her lot with the father. The third child, Mathilda McCormick, is a minor, and is now in school in Europe.
Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1952
BY GENEVIEVE FLAVIN.
Legend on the mail box in the ornate iron fence reads 1000 Lake Shore dr.
For several decades of the early century that box seemed possessed of an almost magic quality. Dropped therein were R. S. V. P.’s to functions in the gray stone mansion looming behind the restraining gates.
And many and storied were the parties given in the Edith Rockefeller residence, 1000 Lake Shore dr. Invitations to the great house were significant of social acceptance—thus the large mail catcher affixed to the wrought iron gate post.
Empty now is the box. Gone the gates. Soon to bow to the razer’s pick is the mansion itself. In its place will rise a $2,500,000, 25-story apartment building, and a $650,000 business building.
Bought by Syndicate.
The property, which fronts an entire block on Lake Shore dr. between Oak st. and Bellevue pl., recently was purchased for almost a million dollars by syndicate of three Chicagoans, headed by Harold L. Perlman, Glencoe. Seller was the Metropolitan Life Insurance company of New York, which acquired the mansion thru a mortgage foreclosure in 1938.
Erected in the 1880s by Nathaniel Jones from designs by S. S. Beman, the mansion was sold to Gen. Joseph Torrence. Harold and Edith Rockefeller McCormick purchased the house in 1897. From then on 1000 Lake Shore dr. was known as one of the most important addresses in the city.
And it is the numeral 1000 which will be the sole remnant of the mansion to be retained by the new purchasers. The proposed building will be known as the 1000 building, Perlman said—rather than 1000 Lake Shore dr.
Represents Another Era.
With razing of the house, which has stood as a spectre of another era and way of life among its skyscraper neighbors, will close one more page of social history.
Soon legend of the 41 rooms and folk who peopled them will be lost. Already gone are the many fireplaces, save the great hearth in the entrance foyer.
Scuffed and scarred beyond salvage value is the parquet flooring, and the once gracefully carved tracings of the woodwork have been erased with too many coats of paint. The surfacing itself leafs off to finger touch, and paint tatters festoon the ceilings. A window, smashed by some vagrant, is missing from a second floor boudoir, and great letters of the alphabet, in cutouts, are affixed to the walls of another room, bespeaking the school which was tenant in the house from 1941 until 1950.
The ballroom, which stretched the width of the first floor front has been divided into classroom areas. Time was when the queen of Romania and her entourage welcomed guests of Mrs. McCormick in the room.
Still intact are the book shelves in the fourth floor library where were housed the fine collection of 15,000 volumes. Mrs. McCormick was said to have known the location of each book, and to have preferred biografy or autobiografy. She did not read fiction.
Servants’ Bell Directory.
A room directory attached to the bell system in the servants hall reads, “Empire Room, Empire bedroom, French room, Delft room, Mrs. McCormick’s room, Tower room, drawing room, smoking room, porte cochere, and so forth.”
In the tower room are twin skylight windows, fronting the drive and looking northward. Here Mrs. McCormick studied the stars.
This room also served as a nursery for her children, Muriel, Fowler, and Mathilda.
No indication of the French bedroom, with its rose silk upholstered Louis XVI bed, measuring 62 inches in width, nor of the silken hangings, the Louis XV dressing table and chairs, all parts of Edith Rockefeller McCormick’s bedroom, could be found.
Rug Cost $120,000.
Last treasure purchased by Mrs, McCormick was said to be a $120,000, 600 year old Persian rug owned by Peter the Great, which she had hung in the large room to the right of the foyer for friends ton see, then had it stored in the Art Institute. The dinner service of Napoleon graced Mrs. McCormick’s dining table for festive occasions, and a florist’s bill rendered the estate after her death showed 250 white orchids, tubs of tearoses, and other flowers used to festoon the banquet hall, adjacent to the family dining room.
Dream confided by Mrs. McCormick of turning the 1000 Lake Shore dr. residence into a gallery for her fabulous collection of art works, jewels, tapestries, dinnerware, and china, died before the demise of the owner. The house was mortgaged for $500,000 in 1928. The heirs defaulted on the mortgage and Metropolitan Life Insurance company claimed it. Advertised late in December, 1937, in public auction, the house had no bidders.
Once Valued at 4 Million.
Asking price was $625,000, thus covering taxes due and related expenses. The property at one time was valued at 4 million dollars.
Built to endure and having endured, the mansion has passed its usefulness either as residence or business property. With its demolition will go the restraining fence made in 1893 by the Winslow company, which fashioned the fence sections to conform with the great gates on Bellevue pl., purchased from the German exhibit at the 1893 Columbian exposition by Gen. Torrence.
LEFT: Main entrance was on Bellevue pl., tho address was 1000 Lake Shore dr. Gone are famous wrought iron gates which once protected the house.
RIGHT: Main staircase rising from drawing room or foyer as iut appeared when it was residence of the late Mrs. McCormick.
Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1953
BY AL CHASE.
Demolition of one of Chicago’s last big Lake Shore dr. mansions, the former residence of the late Harold and Edith Rockefeller McCormick, will be started Wednesday morning. The 41-room stone mansion, fronting an entire block at 1000 Lake Shore dr. between Oak st. and Bellevue pl., is to be replaced by a 7 million dollar apartment and business project.
Harold L. Perlman, attorney and head of a Chicago syndicate which purchased the property last December from the Metropolitan Life Insurance company for about 1 million dollars, said yesterday thatb the 22 story, 4½ million dollar apartment building, to satnd at the southwest corner of Bellevue pl. and Lake Shore dr., will be ready for occupancy by May 1, 1954.
3½ Million Business Section.
Diagonally across from the Drake hotel, at the northwest corner of Oak st and the drive, and south of the apartment building, a 2½ million dollar business building will be erected at a date as yet undetermined.
Perlman explained that since the project was announced last December several changes in the apartment building layout have been made.
The building’s 185 units will be divided as follows:
80 four room suites with one bedroom and bath
85 five rooms, with two bedrooms and two baths
20 six rooms, with three bedrooms and three baths.
A tentative rent schedule calls for an average rental of $200 for 4 rooms; an average of $275 for 5 rooms; and an average of $350 for the six room apartments.
3 Penthouse Apartments.
Plans by Sydney H. Morris and Associates, and Shaw, Metz & Dolio, architects and engineers, also provide for three penthouse apartments, and inside parking for 135 cars. A driveway at the west end of the business building will run from Bellevue pl. to an underground garage between the apartment and commercial structures.
This will enable the garages to be used in day time hours by at least 65 car owners other than the building’d tenants, Perlman explained. This should take about 135 cars off the street in the day, he said.
Drawing of buildings to occupy site of Lake Shore dr. mansion of late Harold and Edith Rockefeller McCormick. Inset: Photo of 41 room mansion to be torn down.
Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1965
By Eleanor Page
The gray stone mansion is gone; so are the iron fence and the imposing gates which originally were a gift from Kaiser Wilhelmn to the German exhibit in the Columbian exposition of 1893. Not many who pass by the corner of Lake Shore drive and Oak street remember the woman who used to stroll thru the area with a detective behind her.
Fewer still recall the swath she cut driving away to the opera in her town cal with “teo men on the box,” a chauffeur and a footman—”as much for her own protection and to protect her jewels as anything else,” recalls a friend.
Among those who knew Edith Rockefeller McCormick, there is a difference in memories: “she had the most beautiful figure, an exquisite little waist, nearly hipless, and a lovely skin. She wasn’t pretty, but I grew to think her face was beautiful, it lighted up so,” says an older woman who, with three of four others, was an intimate of that immensely wealthy, completely individual daughter of John D. Rockefeller who for so many years reigned over the mansion, the opera, and Chicago.
“She wasn’t beautiful, and she didn’t have a good figure, but she dressed well and had beautiful jewels,” is the opinion of another friend.
There was no disagreement about the jewels. “Cartier said she had the finest quality jewelry of any woman in the world,” says a Lake Shore drive widow who was an intimate friend of Mrs. McCormick. This widow remembers a blissful birthday when Mrs. McCormick asked her, “What would you most like to do?” and the widow replied, “Try on your jewels.”
“It took two men to carry the jewel case!” she recalls. This same friend and four other intimates each cherish a diamond clip given to them by Mrs. McCormick over a cup of tea in Pasavant hospital one day when she was ill and they called on her.
“She was a great personality, tho she did have some ga-ga ideas,” says an intimate. “She would make the most astute comments, as well as surprising ones. Of course, she was brought up as a Rockefeller, rather on the solemn side. But she wasn’t solemn. She could see the amusing point to things, tho she was not witty herself.”
Possibly among her “ga-ga ideas” was the horror of water she is reported to have developed. According to a friend: “For a time she wouldn’t even cross the river. But eventually she had to, to get to the opera.” That was after she had spent eight years studying psychiatry with Jung in Switzerland.
The most often repeated stories about Mrs. McCormick concern her determine to be in her opera box before the opening curtain. Mrs. McCormick ate with a watch beside her, and there was no dawdling. A butler was apt to take the plate away if a guest neglected his fork and knife.
“We always walked into the house on time. A butler took our wraps. One quick cocktail was served, usually a martini, I think; then we sat down to dinner,” recalls a friend who was among the young set that Mrs. McCormick entertained at dinner and the opera.
“Not at all!” protested a more intimate friend. “You had cocktails before you went! Mrs. McCormick never served a drop of liquor in that house. ‘I promised my father I wouldn’t,’ she told me. If anyone says she served liquor, they didn’t know! She served marvelous food, and told me many times, ‘I have to have extra nice things to eat because I don’t serve liquor.'”
Most young people enjoyed her for he “brilliance, her marvelous qualities, the way she got along with others.” All, that is, but her own children, her own children agree. “Her own children didn’t like her. It was pathetic.”
Mrs. McCormick was considered by her friends to be more of an intellectual than her husband (they were divorced in 1921), but her husband is described almost unvaryingly by these same friends in such terms as “lovable and sweet.”
“She was a very thoro woman, and always educating herself,” says another old friend. “When she was learning Spanish and Italian, she said they were so much alike that between times she learned Hungarian.”
The decor of the house was not of any one period, not Victorian, not Edwardian, because Mrs. McCormick was a collector, and she bought what appealed to her, says Miss Cornelia Conger, internationally known interior designer. “She had an eye for the unusual and the beautiful—and collected some really superb rugs—but the effect of the house wasn’t really attractive. She never had the flair for putting two things together. And then, the house was big, ugly, and heavy, an overwhelming house.”
“It was not a cozy house,” agrees a good friend. “It was terribly formal. The chair that Mrs. McCormick sat in was one of Napoleon’s—rather like a throne. It was a chilly kind of place, and even with six at dinner the formality weighed.
The decor was not Victorian, not Edwardian, because Mrs. McCormick was a collector, and she bought what appealed to her “She never had the flair for putting two things together,” a decorator recalls
“I recall eating with Mrs. McCormick and a friend in the garden in the summer time. The garden was beautifully kept and even with just three of us at luncheon there would be three footmen waving away flies. People walking down Oak street would peer in at us thru the fence and the bushes. It gave you a funny feeling.”
“There was always a detective following her when she strolled on Lake Shore drive,” says another friend. “Sometimes I would wait until I got right beside her and then pretend I had just seen her, and address her suddenly, holding her arm. You should have seen the detective jump!”
She died a few days before her 60th birthday, in 1932, a sad and lonely woman in a suite of rooms in the Drake hotel, estranged from her daughters, Muriel (the late Mrs. Elisha Dyer Hubbard) and Mathilde (the late Mrs. Max Oser, of Switzerland), her fortune vanishing in unwise real estate speculations, her income from stocks, mainly her father’s Standard Oil of Indiana, reduced by the depression of the early 1930’s (tho, say Chicago business men, if she had lived she might have recouped her losses in a grand manner). Only two score close friends and relatives, her surviving son, Fowler McCormick, and his father among them, attended the funeral services, tho thousands of the curious swarmed nearby.
Contents of the Residence of the Late Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick
January 10-13, 1934
Her most valuable possessions were auctioned in New York; friends and the curious bought remembrances at auctions here (Mrs. Hubbard bid successfully on everything with her mother’s monogram, including the magnificent, lace-trimmed bed linen from Switzerland. “I didn’t want anything wityh Mother’s monogram to go to strangers,” she explained.)
“Mrs. McCormick’s death marked the end of an era,” wrote Arthur Meeker, longtime family friend and author. “No one again could afford to live as she had lived—nor perhaps, even if they could, would they have wanted to.”
No. 88 Bellevue Place
Robinson’s Fire Map
1 In 1910, the Chicago Grand Opera Company was opened as the city’s first permanent resident company. It established the city as an operatic center of national prominence, thanks in large part to music director and conductor Cleofante Campanini’s openness to experimentation and innovation and to the patronage of Harold and Edith McCormick.