Director of Communications
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 6, 2023
Landmarks Illinois Collaborates with Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture to secure permanent home for Ebony Test Kitchen
CHICAGO – Landmarks Illinois is excited to announce that it has donated the iconic Ebony Test Kitchen from the former Johnson Publishing Company Building in Chicago to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) located in Washington, D.C. The test kitchen will be a part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The NMAAHC announced the acquisition of the historically significant test kitchen, which Landmarks Illinois saved from demolition in 2018, earlier today. The museum said the kitchen would undergo conservation work as it develops new plans for its construction and future use.
Landmarks Illinois has spent the past five years working to ensure the Ebony Test Kitchen is preserved and celebrated, giving future generations the opportunity to experience it and learn about its important role in Black history and culinary history. The test kitchen also helps tell the story of the Johnson Publishing Company, the country’s most influential African American publisher of its time.
“Saving the Ebony Test Kitchen has been an extraordinary preservation effort, and one we are proud to be a part of, especially given this incredible result,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “We cannot think of a more suitable home for the iconic kitchen than the NMAAHC, which welcomes millions of visitors every year in our nation’s capital. We thank the Smithsonian Institution for its dedication to preserving this pivotal piece of American history.”
The Ebony Test Kitchen at the Museum of Food and Drink in New York City.
History of the Test Kitchen
The Ebony Test Kitchen was previously housed in the Johnson Publishing Company Building designed by John Warren Moutoussamy and located at 820 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago. When the building opened in 1971, Moutoussamy became the first Black architect to have designed a building located on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The building is now a Chicago Landmark, a designation Landmarks Illinois helped advocate for.
The Test Kitchen, designed by Palm Springs-based interior designers William Raiser and Arthur Elrod, was used for decades by Ebony Magazine food editors to test recipes that would appear in the popular publication.
As the building was sold and about to undergo redevelopment, Landmarks Illinois acquired the test kitchen in 2018 for $1 to ensure its preservation. With the help of its Skyline Council committee and additional volunteers, Landmarks Illinois documented, dissembled and safely put the kitchen into storage.
Landmarks Illinois volunteers disassembling the Ebony Test Kitchen in 2018 from the former Johnson Publishing Company Building in Chicago, which was set to be redeveloped, putting the iconic kitchen at risk of being demolished.
In May 2019, Landmarks Illinois agreed to loan the kitchen to the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). MOFAD painstakingly rebuilt two rooms, refurbished the kitchen and reproduced kitchen elements such as the iconic wallpaper to prominently feature the kitchen as part of their last exhibition, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table. Open from February to July 2022 at the Africa Center in Manhattan, the exhibit was the country’s first to celebrate the history of African American cuisine and the countless Black chefs, farmers and food and drink producers who have laid the foundation for American food culture.
Landmarks Illinois & Smithsonian Collaboration
Following the MOFAD exhibit, NMAAHC approached Landmarks Illinois in the fall of 2022 about its interest in acquiring the Ebony Test Kitchen. At that time, Landmarks Illinois and MOFAD agreed to donate the kitchen to NMAAHC for its future use.
Landmarks Illinois produced a short video about the years-long effort to preserve the Ebony Test Kitchen, which can be viewed here. The video discusses the history and significance of the test kitchen and explains how it went from being threatened with demolition to being preserved in the future at the NMAAHC. The video shares voices from Landmarks Illinois as well as artist Amanda Williams, who served on Landmarks Illinois’ Ebony Test Kitchen Advisory Committee; Lee Bey, Chicago Sun-Times Architecture Critic; Charla Draper, Ebony’s Director of Food & Home Furnishings from 1982 to 1984; and Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Charla Draper, Ebony’s Director of Food & Home Furnishings from 1982 to 1984, at Landmarks Illinois’ 2023 Preservation Forward event at the Old Post Office in Chicago in March 2023. The event is where Landmarks Illinois first shared the news that the NMAAHC would be acquiring the Ebony Test Kitchen. Credit: David T. Kindler
About Landmarks Illinois
We are People Saving Places for People. Landmarks Illinois is a membership-based, historic preservation nonprofit organization serving the people of Illinois. We inspire and empower stakeholders to save places that matter to them by providing free guidance, practical and financial resources and access to strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.Landmarks.org.
About the Museum of Food and Drink
Food is culture. As the most universal aspect of human existence, it is a powerful lens for understanding ourselves, each other, and the world around us. The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is a new kind of museum that uses this power to create cultural change towards a more thoughtful, equitable and delicious future. Our goal is to be the world’s premier food museum and a global educational resource that inspires generations of curious eaters of all ages and backgrounds. For more information, visit mofad.org and follow @mofad on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.