One of the most significant residential designs of the 20th century—architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House—was saved in late 2003 through a joint effort by Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), and the Friends of the Farnsworth House.
The iconic steel-and-glass house, which was completed in 1951, is located on the banks of the Fox River, 60 miles southwest of Chicago. It was built as a weekend retreat by Edith Farnsworth, who subsequently sold it in 1972 to Peter Palumbo, a British arts patron who had restored several other historic properties.
In 2003, Palumbo listed the building for sale at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. Several potential buyers inquired about dismantling the structure and moving it to another state. Faced with this imminent threat, Landmarks Illinois and the NTHP each contributed $1 million to help save the building. Thanks to the support of several generous donors, the organizations were able to secure an additional $5.5 million to purchase the building at auction and open it to the public as a house museum.
Landmarks Illinois staffed the historic site until 2010, when it turned over operations to the NTHP. The rescue of the Farnsworth House was identified as one of the 40 top preservation successes in Illinois over the last four decades (see “40 Over 40”). For more information, see: farnsworthhouse.org.