Last week the CACG went on a tour of the magnificent Gilded Age mansion now known as the Driehaus Museum. Nora Davis described it better than I could, as quoted below in am email to her mother:
“…last night we had a private tour of the Driehaus Museum, which is one of the few surviving Gilded Age mansions – actually the second most expensive home ever constructed in the city of Chicago, and the most expensive has since been demolished. The house cost $450,000 then, which would equal about 100 million dollars today. It was built in 1879, by a banker, Samuel Nickerson, and was basically an exercise in seeing how much money he could put into the house. There are 17 different kinds of marble, and the floors, walls, and ceilings (!) are intricately carved and patterned with inlaid wood. It is crawling with lamps and decorative pieces and fire screens from Tiffany’s, some even custom-built for him, and the same with furniture pieces from the best furniture makers. His office desk was so expensive that they bought it and then designed the room to match the desk! Each room is its own little environment, with specific unique design elements, and each side of each door from room to room is carved to match the design of the room that it is a part of – so each door has two distinctly styled sides. It’s ridiculously ornate, but beautiful. The house has been treated by conservators, including the exterior, and restored to historically accurate, if not original, material. They also have a room that shows photographs of the house in many of its various incarnations being owned by other people in the years between the original family and when it was bought with preservation in mind, which were really neat to see. A group of wealthy Chicagoans bought it and allowed the American College of Surgeons to use it for their offices with the unspoken agreement that it would not be changed drastically, so that it could be preserved as a historic house when someone had the resources to do so.
A few of my favorite points were the Tiffany Studios lamps that have 20-or-so tulip bulbs that twist to point down – a celebration of being able to afford this fancy new electricity stuff, our light doesn’t have to be oriented up for gas, so there! Also, there were beautiful fireplaces in every room, with Tiffany glass and tile firescreens (!), but only one of them had ever been used by the family, and it rarely – because everyone was still completely traumatized by the Great Chicago Fire. Also on that note, every wall in the house is 32 inches thick, with brick between the wood panels, and so are the floors and ceilings (except, of course, the ceiling in the Art and Sculpture Gallery room, which is a glass dome designed by Tiffany Studios, duh).”
Our visit was generously offered free of charge to CACG members by Richard Driehaus. We were given an extensive tour of almost two hours by our patient and knowledgeable tour guide Steven.
See the Driehaus Museum website for more information and photos of the museum.
Note: the first photo is from TripAdvisor. The other three photos are by David Augustus.