Photos provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The Architectural Significance of the Hostess House
Quote from GLNMF President
“The Great Lakes Naval Museum will inform, educate and inspire Sailors, family members and the general public by presenting the history, diversity, rich tradition and proud heritage of the enlisted Sailor and how they are trained. How appropriate that such a museum be housed in this historically significant building. Over three million Sailors have completed their initial training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and gone to the fleet ready to defend our way of life. The “Hostess House” represents the military roots of so many Sailors, what an honor it will be to restore this building for future generations to learn about the their forefathers.”
~ Mr. Carl Ross, retired Dean of Training, Naval Service Training Command, Great Lakes and Current President of the Great Lakes Naval Museum Foundation
Great Lakes Naval Museum (Building 42 Restoration Project)
The project, known as the “Hostess House Restoration,” will be carried out by the Great Lakes Naval Museum Foundation. (the “Foundation”), a non-profit corporation working closely with the U.S. Navy to restore a significant mid-century building at the Great Lakes Naval Station and to operate a Naval Museum in the restored building.
The Foundation seeks to restore the exterior and interior of the architecturally and historically significant “Hostess House” (Building 42) at Great Lakes Naval Station. The “Hostess House” was the first military project of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. It was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft and completed around 1942. This building is an exceptional testament to the development of both the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and modern architecture in the US. The building was originally used during World War II for recreation by Naval recruits, and as initially constructed, it included spaces where the recruits could meet with guests. It included a reading and writing room, reception room, lounge, terrace and offices.
Unaware of its pedigree or architectural significance, and having no need for the building for current programming purposes, the Navy obtained funding for demolition of the Hostess House in 2006.
As part of a federally regulated review of U.S. government-owned properties slated for demolition, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) determined that Building 42 is very significant architecturally and merits listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Hostess House is a classic example of modern American architecture. It represents a particularly early and significant use of glued-laminate wood construction. Constructed shortly after the United States entered World War II, steel was in short supply and Hostess House used relatively small amounts of steel. Its roof consists of a series of laminated wood frames originally exposed on the inside, which are supported at both ends by steel columns. The exposed wood trusses project through both facades to the outside, uniting inside and outside, creating a dynamic atmosphere. Its original open spaced interior is well suited to serve the museum's requirement for exhibition space. Its historic significance would add another important dimension to the historic collections to be housed inside the museum. The museum building itself is part of the very history that the Foundation seeks to preserve and document with the museum. The building will become part of the story for the public, and another larger piece in the collection.
The building was evaluated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency when it was designated for demolition by the Navy. In the intervening years since its construction and original use, the building had been significantly modified, such that its architectural and historical significance was largely forgotten by the Navy. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency determined that the building “is very significant architecturally and merits listing on the National Register of Historic Places.” Pursuant to 36 CFR 800.13 (Post-review discoveries) of the regulations that govern Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, the Agency asked the U.S. Navy not to take any action that could destroy its architectural integrity until a more complete assessment of the property could be made.
The Foundation, which was formed in 1991 to establish and operate a Naval Museum at the Great Lakes Naval Station, was working on plans for construction of a new building when it learned of the architectural and historical significance of the “Hostess House.” With the support of the U.S. Navy, the Foundation decided to establish the new museum in the “Hostess House,” as it is ideally situated for a museum (just outside the security perimeter of the base and therefore accessible to the public), and its historic significance would add another dimension to the historic collections to be housed inside the museum. There is a unique opportunity for a very powerful synergy here, since the museum building itself is part of the very history that the Foundation seeks to preserve and document with the museum. The building will become part of the story for the public, and another larger piece in the collection. Bunshaft's other designs include the award-winning Lever House and Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City, the Connecticut General in Bloomfield, Connecticut, the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.
A coalition of preservation advocacy organizations, including the Recent Past Network, DOCOMOMO/US (the international working party for documentation and conservation of building sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement), the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Mies van der Rohe Society, Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, the IHPA and the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, convinced the Navy to explore an alternative to demolition that would preserve the building and restore it for use as the new home of the Great Lakes Naval Museum. Through those efforts, the Navy has recognized the significance of the building and is now supportive of efforts to convert Hostess House, through adaptive reuse, into a museum, and is willing to support the operation, manning and upkeep of the building. While the Navy will assist with building maintenance costs once the museum is operational, The Foundation has established a plan for fundraising for support of adaptive reuse of the building.
The Foundation has undertaken to complete a thorough investigation and documentation of the structure, using the original plans and photographs from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, to restore the building as accurately as possible to its original design, while also making minimal interior modifications to accommodate display areas, meeting spaces, archival storage and a museum shop that would allow the Naval Station Museum to attain its goal of becoming an accredited museum by the Naval Historical Center. The Foundation is currently working with architect John Vinci of Vinci/Hamp Architects, a firm highly experienced in restoration of historically significant buildings. Vinci has prepared design documents, including preliminary research and documentation of historic conditions, and along with the Maude Group, have made recommendations for space planning, development of project phases, and initial cost estimates for restoration.
The site will be designed to be functional and in keeping with quality standards of the Navy, NAVSTA Great Lakes, and the American Association of Museums, for safety and artifact display and preservation. In compliance with paragraph 5b of SECNAV Instruction 5755.1A, the command and the Foundation will seek review and approval of the Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command with regard to Navy museum design criteria and standards, as well as construction licensing, bonding and other details. In addition, the architectural design of the renovated facility will complement the concepts and ideas incorporated within the NAVSTA architectural plan. Attached as Appendix "C" is a conceptual rendition of the new facility, prepared by The Maude Group.