Sunday, February 5, 2012

"The Most Beautiful House Between New York and San Francisco"

"It is now my privilege to illustrate and describe a house and garden of which limitations of cost are not evident, and carried out on a scale that has seldom been equaled in any other country home in America." Peter B. Wright, 1916.

"MELLODY FARM", THE COUNTRY HOME of J. OGDEN ARMOUR, LAKE FOREST, ILL.

***Interlaced with additional text and photos.***

"Six years ago Mr. J. Ogden Armour, of Chicago, whose name is a figure in modern business not only in America, but throughout the world of trade and commerce, bought to satisfy his desire to provide for the rest of his life and that of his family, a country place which would not only provide them with all the comforts of home that they could ever hope for, but which would be large enough to supply him with a field for exploitation and development during many years to come; in which when the cares of business may have been laid aside and entrusted to others he might enjoy farming and every other thing that the cultivation of land comprises and implies, under his own direct observation. For Mr. Armour is only now beginning the period known as middle life, and has many years of cheerful prospect before him. He first satisfied this desire by purchasing several contiguous farms comprising twelve hundred acres or more, situated only thirty miles from his home in Chicago. 
***J. Ogden Armour residence, 3724 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago***
***Article appearing in the New York Times  July 2, 1898 chronicling a June "Fire in a Palatial Home".***
***1915 exterior view of the residence of J. Ogden Armour***
***J. Ogden's father, Phillip Danforth Armour, lived next door in a equally grand mansion at 3700 South Michigan Avenue, the two occupying the entire blockThe Armour Institute of Technology was founded in 1890 with one million dollars from the senior Armour. The original main building still stands. Click HERE to see.***
***J. Ogden Armour residence, 3724 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago***
***In 1915 two burglars entered the home through windows and beat Mrs. Armour and stole much of her jewelry.(Chicago Daily News)***
***1915 exterior view of the home of J. Ogden Armour, featuring the porte-cochere, at 3724 South Michigan Avenue***
***The view today, house demolished in the 1940s.***

***Mr. Armour purchased land from Patrick Melody, one of the areas original Irish settlers. The Armours altered the spelling to Mellody, adding the extra "L" to distinguish his estate from the previous owner(if anyone left out one "L" Armour became irritated).***

This property is west of Lake Forest, which since 1870 has been the favorite site for the country residences of the wealthy and cultured business men of Chicago. Lake Forest, the farthest from the city of Chicago's suburban settlements, is a natural woodland, divided into building sites with more or less garden surroundings; it is not farm land, because its native trees are its best asset. Mr. Armour's place is located west of the C. M. and St. P. R. R., which runs through one corner of the farm, and it possesses only a few patches of natural forest. Hence it is in every sense a farm and is intended to be cultivated as such. Not more than forty acres are devoted to house and gardens and the rest will be cultivated as opportunities are offered and disposition is inclined. 

***Along the railroad tracks that ran through the estate Armour constructed a private station for commuting to Chicago and for arriving and departing guests. A spur line was built for the delivery of supplies to the main house. To conceal the sight and sound of the long freight trains that rumbled through his property, Armour built a 22ft-high wall a half mile long alongside the tracks at a cost of $65,000. Fifty men and twenty-five teams of horses were engaged on the earth excavations, with a temporary village of boarding houses, shops, and stables.***

Mr. Armour in building the house and laying out the gardens, did not so much consider his own desires as those of his wife, his daughter and one who had not the least consideration - his mother. He only desired to make it their country home - and he has succeeded; for it is what might be called a self-contained house in that respect, like many of the old English manor houses; but it is still very near to the large number of good neighbors residing in that part of Lake Forest which lies between the C. M. and St. P. R. R. and Lake Michigan.

He selected as his architect Arthur Heun, of Chicago, than whom he could have found no more sympathetic and enthusiastic coadjutor. Mr. Heun is one of the younger Chicago architects who are known for their artistic accomplishments and progressive tendencies. He has had control of all the work, which required nearly two years in its accomplishment, having engaged other professional help, such as that of engineers, landscape executants, and gardeners to carry out the designs, which were entirely his own. The house was completed and the gardens were practically laid out and graded four years ago. The growth since that time only up to the summer and fall of 1915 is therefore shown in the photographic illustrations.

To make the illustrations most intelligible to the reader,  they have been arranged in such order as that in which one would make a tour of the premises, which Mr. and Mrs. Armour have kindly placed at the disposal of the Architectural Record for the time being.
*** Sketch of House and Drive*** 
***Entrance Gate***

***towering ornamental gate with apartments on both sides opened to a driveway two miles long leading to the house.***
***Entrance Gate***

*** CONCRETE BRIDGE OVER TRACKS 1909***


The visitor, arriving by train or from Lake Forest by other conveyance, is first driven over the concrete bridge built by Mr. Armour which spans the tracks of the C. M. and St. P. R. R.
*** CONCRETE BRIDGE OVER TRACKS***

 FIG 1. MAIN DRIVE JUST BEFORE IT REACHES THE OPEN GROUND UPON WHICH THE HOUSE IS BUILT-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
***Horizontal View Showing the Slope of the Property***
On a perfectly made road through a piece of natural forest, shown in Fig. 1, from which he emerges to get the first general view of the house and attached outbuildings. This forest is the only natural woodland on the site.

***Mellody Farm, J. Ogden Armour's residence seen from across the lawn***

***1909 exterior view of J. Ogden Armour's residence in Lake Forest, Illinois, view of the front of the house looking from an angle across a circle drive***

***1909 exterior view of Mellody Farm, J. Ogden Armour's residence in Lake Forest, Illinois***
***1909 exterior view of entrance and front of Mellody Farm, J. Ogden Armour's residence***

FIG. 2 MAIN  APPROACH AND FORECOURT-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.   
The road then winds around, turning somewhat away from the house at first, and then toward the east entrance, which is approached by a straight road from which most of this side of the house is seen in elevation, as in Fig. 2.
***In addition to the photos featured in the Architectural Record article I've added high-resolution closeups of most of the outdoor and indoor scenes.***
***Later view showing mature landscaping***

FIG. 3 FORECOURT LOOKING TOWARDS PORTE-COCHERE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
(Fig. 3)This leads into the forecourt, in the center of which is a fountain around which the road turns in a circle, passing the loggia at the main entrance and continuing to the right through the porte-cochere, which is under the northeast wing of the house, between the office and the side entrance.  
*** The Stable and Staff Cottage Block ***
This road continues on in a northerly direction toward the stables and garage. 
***The Stable and Staff Cottage Block***

***Warner House Dormitory***
***Converted into a dormitory that houses 30 boys and five faculty members.***
FIG. 4 
Fig. 4, reproduced in color on the cover and looking in the same direction, gives a better view of one of the observation towers. It will be observed that rooms in the second story extend over the porte-cochere and most of the loggias, so that the second story covers more area than the rooms of the main floor. There is no third story except in the two towers. 
Mellody Farm



 FIG. 5 ENTRANCE PORCH AND PORTE-COCHERE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Fig. 5 is another view in the same direction showing the entrance porch and the porte-cochere. 


FIG. 6 ENTRANCE PORCH MELLODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL
Fig. 6 shows the detail of the entrance porch and the beautiful loggia over it.  

This picture gives the best view of the overhanging eaves which surround the whole building and the relation between the marble work of the exterior and the stuccoed brick walls, which are everywhere finished the same.
FIG. 7 DRIVE TO GARAGE THROUGH PORTE-COCHERE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Fig. 7 is a view close up to the entrance to the porte-cochere, giving a vista of the road to the garage and beyond the arch, and the marble details of the second story.


***J. Ogden Armour's Residence in Lake Forest, Looking Down From a Loggia Toward the Main Entrance***
***1909 Exterior view of J. Ogden Armour's residence, looking out from under a covered area toward the main entrance of three arches. Potted topiaries and window boxes are visible near the arches***

FIG. 21 VIEW THROUGH  PORTE-COCHERE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
***The pillared entrance, designed as a loggia with three tall arches, led to the entrance hall that connected the left wing to the right wing of the house.***

***The left wing contained the music room at the front of the house, the library in the middle, and the living room at the back. The right wing contained the drawing room at the front, the dining room in the middle, and a breakfast room at the back.***
FIG. 8 MAIN HALL, TOWARD SOUTHERN PORCH. ON RIGHT, DOORS TO WINTER GARDEN; ON LEFT, OPPOSITE TABLE, ENTRANCE FROM  VESTIBULE AND PORCH-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.

We are now supposed to have entered the house through the large entrance loggia and vestibule and are standing near the north end of the grand central hall, from which we have the view shown in Fig. 8. 


We are looking south, and the main door through which we have entered from the vestibule is between two Chinese vases on pedestals and opposite the central table on which are chrysanthemums. This hall is 20 feet wide and 112 feet long. At the far end as we stand is the open fireplace concealed by the bunch of flowers, on each side of which are open arches which connect with a corridor. From this corridor are three glass doors connecting with a loggia still farther on, a door on the right leading into the living room, one on the left leading into the music room. In this view of the central hall the five double doors to the right lead into the winter garden, which is on the West side of the house. 
FIG. 9 MAIN HALL, TOWARD MAIN STAIRCASE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL
Fig. 9 is a view of the central hall looking toward the main stairway, which is at the north end. Here the five doors to the winter garden are on the left and the opening on the right where the columns of Caen stone are shown is into the palm room. 

***Displaying tapestries against warm white walls, the entrance hall was furnished with long, low benches, giant porcelain jar­dinieres, marble-topped 18th-century consoles, and a Chinese lacquer cabinet on a gilt-wood stand.***

FIG. 10 MAIN STAIRCASE AT NORTH END OF MAIN HALL-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL
Fig. 10 is a view of the great marble stairway leading to the second story. It is very plain, but has bronze railings. Observe the care that must have been taken to weave the rug so as to fit the curvatures of the stairs. This illustration shows also the details and carvings of the walls of the main hall, which are entirely lined with Caen stone built up in blocks against the brick wan. The floor of the main hall is of marble tile, but is almost entirely covered with rugs.

***Between the living room and the dining room the curved stairway of rose and green marble with bronze railings, designed, it was claimed at the time, for daughter Lolita to make an entrance on her eventual wedding day. There is some truth to the story since Heun was invited back to create the decorations for the heiress' wedding to John J. Mitchell Jr. ***
***Library***
***The library was a darker room, paneled in wood and decorated in green.***
***Private Office of Mr. J. Ogden Armour ***
 ***Other important rooms on this floor were Armour's study, with a private stair leading to his bedroom above. Antique and reproduction furniture, primarily 18th-century French in style, was deployed throughout most of the Armours' rooms.***

Our itinerary now leads us to the other end of the main hall. There we pass out through the arch at the left of the fireplace and, turning to the left, enter the music room through a double door, opening from this short corridor, which connects the three large rooms at the south end of the house. 
FIG. 11 MUSIC ROOM AT SOUTH END OF MAIN HALL. THE PIPE ORGAN FILLS THE TWO DISTANT CORNERS-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Fig. 11 is a general view of the music room looking east. Near the far end is a transom beam supported by two piers, rendered necessary by the construction of the second story and serving to relieve the great length of the room, for this room measures 68 by 25 feet on the floor. The floor, by the way, is of marquetrie in large patterns, having only one large rug in that part where there is an open fireplace. The beam and piers forming a partial screen at the east end, serve to cut off the organ section, so as to leave the remainder of the room in good proportion for symmetrical treatment, with fireplace in the center, and opposite to it a large semi-circular bay window on the south side, the opening to which is only suggested in the illustration. 

The pipe organ is at the east end, and is in two sections covered with open metallic screens, which entirely conceal it. Between these sections is a large triple window in which, when the picture was taken, the shades were drawn down preventing a glare of light which would have spoiled the photograph.

***The green music room was executed in neoclas­sical French taste, and at one end stood the obligatory instrument of the era, an Aeolian Pipe Organ. Here could be found several groupings of Louis XVI chairs and small sofas; Chinese jars made into table lamps and topped by shirred silk shades; a marble fireplace sur­round topped by an inset sheet of mirror; multi-armed cast-bronze sconces; lightly painted neoclassical-style paneling, and an Aubusson carpet. ***
***Dining Room***
***The mauve dining room initially was decorated with tapestries, but Lolita Armour removed them at a later date and had an Italian artist create a lavishly  veined jaux-marbre finish on the plain plaster walls. The applied panels of the room were filled with large scenes of 18th-century ladies and gentlemen in wooded landscapes.  The oak parquet floor was inlaid with a border of black and varicolored marble. Adjacent to this was a black-and-gold breakfast room.*** 
FIG. 12 WINTER GARDEN, FROM ONE OF THE DOORS IN THE DINING ROOM. AT FAR END ARE ENTRANCES TO THE LIBRARY, WHICH LIES BETWEEN THIS AND THE MUSIC ROOM. AT LEFT IS MAIN HALL AND AT RIGHT ARE THE MAIN DOORS TO THE WEST TERRACE AND WATER GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.  
 We will now return to the great hall and pass into the Winter Garden, which is the center of the house on the west side of the hall. Its size is 55 feet 6 inches in length by 24 feet in width (Fig. 12). It is the most attractive room in the house, and is furnished with every imaginable comfortable appliance and decorated with many works of art; a room adapted to family gatherings and the entertainment of many guests. The decoration of the upper walls is too delicate for present description, and may be a field for discreet treatment with color; that of the lower walls, suggesting lattice work, is an intimation that we are approaching what far surpasses all that art may do. It is the most direct and natural approach to the water garden, where man's work is only that of an accomplice of Nature.

***The most impressive room in the Armour house was the winter garden, a feature as common to the mansions of the wealthy at this time as a ballroom. The architect provided a dramatic pastoral plaster frieze depicting animals and birds, below were positioned panels of trellis-work. A fountain was placed at one end and the trelliswork panels were lighted by floral-theme metal sconces in the form of two thorny long-stemmed roses suspended by bows and ribbons. Caryatid pedestals held pots of azaleas aloft in front of the pilasters on the long inside wall, while Chinese porcelain cachepots, planted with specimen ferns, stood between the glass doors to the garden.***
FIG. 13 WATER GARDEN FROM THE WEST TERRACE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL
Passing out through the doors on the right, we find ourselves on the west terrace, which reveals to view in one long perspective all the beauties of the water garden, with the casino at the extreme end, shown in Fig. 13. 
***View Toward Casino***
***View toward Casino***


***Oblique View of West Front as Seen from the side of the Water Garden***


FIG. 14 CASINO AND TERRACE AT WEST END OF WATER GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
This garden contains three pools, two nearest the house with a carpet of green lawn between them, and the third one beyond, seen in Fig. 14, with a terrace on each side of it leading up to the casino at the extreme end on a still higher terrace. Nature has done its best in four years to develop the beauties of this garden, but Art has crowned it at the end of the perspective with a casino of remarkable beauty, through which the unobstructed sky is seen. Here the architect has indulged his fancy uncontrolled by the practical conditions which prevail in house architecture. 



FIG. 15  CASINO AT WEST END OF WATER GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
The casino is of stone and terra-cotta surmounted by a tiled roof with generous projections in the eaves (Fig. 15).

The pictures show nothing but sky beyond the casino, but the reader must now be let into a secret which will be revealed in actuality near the end of this article. The view from the casino to the west is a surprise. It is across a beautiful artificial lake of about twenty acres, dotted by two islands, all the surroundings of which, having been recently planted, are still in the making.

FIG. 16 LOOKING TOWARDS HOUSE FROM CASINO-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
We will now turn to the east and retrace our steps to the house. The first glimpse of its west side is seen in Fig. 16 at the right, showing also on the left the lattice work which covers the garden side of the pergola separating the orchard garden from the water garden.


***Modern Day View of Water Garden***
FIG. 17 WEST FRONT, FROM THE CASINO ACROSS THE WATER GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Another view of the water garden and the west front of the house as seen from the casino is found in Fig. 17. 





FIG. 18 DINING ROOM LOGGIA TO THE LEFT, FACING THE WINTER GARDEN. WITH THE LIVING ROOM ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE TERRACE-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Still approaching the house, we have a view across one of the pools of the west front which reveals the loggia in front of the dining room and the terrace in front of the winter garden, over which we have passed in entering the water garden Fig. 18. 



***1921 exterior view of the home of Jonathan Ogden Armour viewed from across reflecting pond in Lake Forest, Illinois***


FIG. 19 WEST TERRACE AND FRONT. ON THE LEFT IS THE LOGGIA CONNECTED WITH THE DINING ROOM-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL. 
Another near view of the terrace and center of the west front is seen in Fig. 19

.
FIG. 20 WEST FRONT BETWEEN THE LOGGIAS-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL. 
A still closer view of the central door from the winter garden giving upon the terrace is shown in Fig. 20. Note the dark color on each side of the door deliberately placed there and the effect that it produces in its relation to the dark of the windows and the bay trees, and in contrast with the light gray of the awnings.

We have now re-entered the house and having passed northerly through the main hall to the foot of the marble stairs, and turning to the right, pass out through a branch hall and loggia to the portecochere, where we turn around and have the view through the arch looking back to the loggia which forms the east or main entrance.


***The upstairs bedrooms at Mellody Farm each had its own sitting room. Lolita Armour's bedroom had a two-tone walnut parquet floor; the paneled walls were painted cream picked out in de Wolfe's favorite shade of rose, a color that was repeated in the upholstery of the French furniture. Her dressing room walls were covered in green, gold, and red-striped satin. 

Ogden Armour's bedroom was, in contrast, decorated in American Beauty red and mahogany Chippendale furniture. His bedroom was not connected to his wife's. Armour also had a private suite connected to his ground-floor office, an observer once wrote, where he could entertain special guests without the bother of announcing to the rest of the household they were there. 

The bed­room of the Armours' daughter was decorated in pink and white toile de Jouy with a Louis XVI bed.***

***Guest bedroom***
***Another bedroom was fully paneled in wood and featured a four-poster bed whose undulating canopy was dressed with a bird-of-paradise fabric; a William and Mary bench stood at its foot.*** 
***Black Lacquer Guest Bedroom***

As a detailed plan of the house or main group of connected buildings is not shown, it may be of interest to give some of the dimensions which are not mentioned in the above description. The dining room is 38 feet 6 inches by 24 feet. The dining room loggia is 29 by 30 feet. The living room is 52 feet 6 inches by 24 feet, with an extension on the long side of 12 by 25 feet and a loggia 29 feet by 18 feet. The central hall is 112 by 20 feet with a corridor and loggia at the south end measuring 40 by 20 feet, the total length of hall corridor and loggia over all being 152. There are three stairways in the main house, and in the kitchen extension one, also one in the laundry. There are four loggias on the first floor of the main house in addition to those already mentioned. 
***1909 exterior view of J. Ogden Armour's residence, seen from across the lawn looking at the longer side of the property***
The main house is planned in the shape of a letter H, and the outside dimensions both ways are 164 feet. The outside length of the kitchen extension is 114 feet and the width 48 feet. It is two stories high with a basement.
***1909 exterior view of across the lawn of the front of Mellody Farm***


***J. Ogden Armour's residence in Lake Forest, view of a side of the building with plants and a driveway near the building 1909***

***Laundry in J. Ogden Armour's residence in Lake Forest 1909***

***Mellody Farm, J. Ogden Armour's residence, looking along the drive from the stables 1909***

The laundry is connected by a covered corridor, 89 feet long, with the kitchen and is 52 by 36 feet in ground dimensions. The extreme length of the main house, kitchen extension, corridor to laundry, and laundry is 419 feet.



FIG. 1a MELLODY FARM HOME OF J. OGDEN ARMOUR LAKE FOREST, ILL.
Fig. 1a is a plan of the house and gardens. The water garden, west of the main house, has already been illustrated and described, and the special features illustrated in Figs. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26, and not described, can be located on this plan. The landscape treatment of about forty acres around the house and the remaining gardens will be the subject of further illustrations and comment at a future time."

FIG. 22  APPROACHING THE ROSE GARDEN FROM THE NORTH-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
FIG. 23 ENTRANCE TO ROSE GARDEN. IN THE DISTANCE CAN BE SEEN THE PERGOLA AT THE NORTH END OF THE ORCHARD GARDEN AND, BEYOND, THE UPPER PORTION OF THE ORANGERY-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL. 
FIG. 24 PERGOLA AT NORTH END OF ORCHARD GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL,

FIG. 25 IN THE PERGOLA AT THE END OF THE ORCHARD GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
FIG. 26 FOUNTAIN AND SEAT IN THE WATER GARDEN-MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
FIG. 27 LOOKING ACROSS THE LAKE TOWARDS THE HOUSE AND GARDEN FROM THE WEST.  CASINO SEEN AT LEFT OF CENTER MELODY FARM, LAKE FOREST, ILL.
***View toward west front from over East Lake***

Arthur Heun designed the Melody Farm house as an Italian villa in the same year Edith Wharton published Italian Villas and their Gardens. The villa design was thought appropriate for the Midwest, where hot summers and long prairie views resembled the seasons and open spaces of the countryside near Venice. It also reflected the  Country Life Movement into the Lake Forest area. 

Not mentioned in above article where the efforts of decorator Elsie de Wolfe. Mrs. Armour was one of Chicago's two representatives at New York's Colony Club. Armour was so impressed by de Wolfe's work at the club that she wanted some of it herself. When she began work on the house, Mrs. Armour said to her rather pathetically, "Now, Miss de Wolfe, I don't want a millionaire's house; please give me a home." It is said to be the most beautiful house between New York and San Francisco(Good Housekeeping 1913).


In her autobiography de Wolfe writes - "It was entirely of my planning." Not only did it appear that Lolita Armour left her free to develop her own ideas for the estate, it also seems, thanks to the Armour family's meat­packing millions, that de Wolfe was able to work with an exceptionally generous budget. "Once I had inspired confidence," she wrote with satisfaction, "no limit was put on the expenditure." 

De Wolfe worked on the Armour house for a period of about three years. She bought furniture in Europe and New York City, sometimes with Lolita Armour at her side. She oversaw the work of artisans in the installation of all aspects of the interior. It is not known how closely de Wolfe worked with Heun in the planning of Mellody Farm, as work on Mellody Farm had begun in 1904, before de Wolfe's decision to become a decorator, and the home was completed and inhabited by the Armour family in May 1908. Most of the rooms were furnished after the architectural work had been done. 


In The House in Good Taste, de Wolfe described a jardiniere table in the Armours' winter garden, which combined the function of a desk with that of a plant holder. "The desk, or table, is painted gray, with faint green decorations. At each end of the long top there is a sunken, zinc-lined box to hold growing plants. Between the flower boxes there is the usual arrangement of the desk outfit, blotter pad, paper rack, ink pots, and so forth. The spaces beneath the flower boxes are filled with shelves for books and magazines. The sofas were eight feet long their covers, especially woven, were of white velvet striped in a design of green leaves. At each end was a zinc-lined receptacle holding flowering plants. The tables were of green and black and white marble to match the floors and mantel." She was so pleased with her design for the winter garden, calling the space "the perfection of beauty." 

After de Wolfe had finished working on Mellody Farm, Lolita Armour purchased a complete Georgian room in London, which had a walnut background and carvings by the 18th-century master woodworker Grinling Gibbons and had Heun fit it into the living room. He did so reluctantly, as he did not feel that it suited the rest of the house.  

Mellody Farm cost $10 million, inclusive of the landscaped gardens by Jens Jensen, who also landscaped the Michigan estate of Henry Ford. It had its own water and power sources, orchards, greenhouses, an orangerie, stables, a carriage house with a clock tower, and an icehouse. Of the ten million, two million was allocated for the gardens and grounds. Huge and lavish, with gold and silver doorknobs, imported marble walls, a bowling alley in the basement and 210 fireplaces. The private railroad spur was used to bring the large pieces of marble needed for the walls and floors, the wooden staircases, and the 15 marble mantelpieces closer to the building site. The house was made of concrete and brick and supported by steel beams. Its roof was fashioned of red tiles, made in Ohio, and a pinkish wash was applied to the walls, emphasizing its Italian countenance. 

Ossian Cole Simonds was the other major identified landscape architect. Simonds was also an author and wrote the book Landscape Gardening, originally published in 1920.

Writer Arthur Meeker, Jr., whose father was Ogden Armour’s partner, described the house, and the malaise of an unhappy marriage between Ogden and his wife, Lolita (a close friend of Meeker’s mother) – and Armour’s affair? with Opera star Mary Garden

Meeker in his 1955 book Chicago With Love;  a polite and personal history described the J. Ogden Armour “summer house” this way -
…"We had everything we could possibly want - more, no doubt, than was good for us - but the Armours had that, and a great deal more as well. Ogden Armour, my father’s chief partner, erected the elaborate Mellody Farm, a couple of miles north-west of us.  We felt seignorial with our hundred acres: the Armours had a thousand.  They made a long drive in from Telegraph Road bordered by rows of young elms, which had to be buttressed by wires to withstand fierce Midwestern winds.  Half-way along it, the road swooped over a huge stone bridge surmounting the St. Paul tracks (the Armours had their own station), then down again to two lakes, well stocked with bass and perch, but always, mysteriously, fuller of bullheads than of anything else.  These ornamental pieces of water were the haunt of a race of war-like swans, which were wont to chase us whenever we came near them.  A little farther on, a patch of woodland concealed the stables and greenhouses and other outbuildings; the drive swept grandly past lawns and clumps of trees to the house itself, an authentic vision of pale marbles and rose-pink plaster.  It was, naturally, an Italian villa;  I always felt the trouble with it was that it was too damned Italian.  Nothing could have looked more lamentably inappropriate under the high, thin prairie sky than this ponderous pleasure palace, with its fountains and rose gardens and formal, cypress-lined terraces, in which nobody took any pleasure.  (except the little Meekers, running wild upstairs amid a riot of silk afghans, scented bath salts, and solid-gold toilet sets)  The interior was, if possible, even grander then the exterior; it was as sumptuous as the late Lady Mendel (de Wolfe) and an unlimited bank account could make it….What was it for? -the paneled library of books nobody read; the music room with its harp and organ and grand pianos no-one knew how to play; the lake that wasn't fished; the horses that weren't ridden; the roses in the garden one hadn't time to smell!
“Having been born and brought up in a happy family, I found it disturbing to learn that there were unhappy ones too, not only in story-books, but living next door, as next door goes in the country."


In 1947, the estate and grounds were purchased by the Lake Forest Academy. Since then, the property has been parceled off. The mansion is still owned by the Lake Forest Academy and is used primarily for weddings and other catered events. The garden west of the home remain as Jensen had planted it. The other garden is gone. Click HERE to read two articles prepared by the academy for more on Mellody Farm, now called Reid Hall. 
The north part of the property is now the Conway Park at Lake Forest development and the remainder is owned by the Lake Forest Open Lands, which maintains the middlefork savannah and operates the Lockhart Nature Center on the Mellody Farm Nature Preserve, located at 350 N. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest, IL. The Nature Center is housed in the former gatehouse of the Armour estate. The grounds at the Nature Preserve still contain Jensen’s pond and a transplanted council ring. Click HERE to read an extensive report on the preserve that includes descriptive text for the gatehouse and further history about Armour and Mellody Farm.

Click HERE to see the estate in a 1939 aerial.


3 comments:

  1. Awesome Post! Such great pictures. I've been in this house and LFA has kept it up (although a hideous addition mars the front approach) but your pictures really show the way it was at one time!

    I will send you an Adler item.
    ChipSF

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  2. From the Time August 29, 1927 obit:

    "I don't suppose I shall ever be happy. Perhaps no one ever is. But the thing that would make me happiest just now would be to know that I could get roaring drunk and wander about the Loop for two days without anyone paying any attention to me." -- J. Ogden Armour

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  3. Great pictures. Thanks for putting the post together.

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