03 March 2014

International Overlook at the Dunes

Front of the Dr. Meyer House
 A few years ago I was contacted by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to prepare a nomination to list a house they acquired to the National Register.  The house, known as the Dr. Meyer House, was decidedly in the International Style.  The bonus for me was the ability to interview the architect, still living, something that had never happened with any of my projects to that point.

Harold Olin, the architect of the Meyer house, studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology from 1949 through 1954.  It was during this time that Mies van de Rohe was the director for the architecture program at IIT and influenced very heavily the school’s proclivity toward the International style.  While Olin was a student at IIT he attended a party sponsored by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to celebrate Mies’s birthday.  Olin met Martin Reinheimer, a principle partner in an important architectural firm in Chicago, at the party.  Reinheimer recommended a friend and client to Olin; the client was interested in building a home in Beverly Shores.  Olin had a home in Beverly Shores he had designed for himself in about 1960.

The client recommended to Olin was Dr. John H. Meyer, and his wife Gerda Meyer.  John Meyer was a Chicago area physician who practiced internal medicine.  Dr. Meyer, Gerda, and their daughter Miriam immigrated to the United States in May, 1949.  Dr. Meyer, born in 1913, began medical school in Berlin, Germany, just as Nazism and Adolf Hitler began a rise to power in the country.  In 1933 Meyer, being Jewish, was informed that he could not continue his medical training in Germany.  He then immigrated to Italy where he finished medical school at the University of Genoa.  He immigrated again to Ecuador on May 19, 1939, where he lived until World War II was over and he could relocate his family to the United States.  Besides his native language, Meyer learned both Italian and Spanish.  Later in life Meyer published a book recounting his survival of the holocaust and the persecution suffered by his family.  The book entitled Surviving Against All Odds has an introduction that states why Meyer wrote the book.  Meyer believed that accounts of suffering by Jews during the holocaust had to be documented and remembered.  He also believed the toll on the survivors’ health was also a topic to be considered.  Meyer stated that while many contributions were made by Jews who emigrated during the holocaust, they suffered emotionally and physically during their readjustment to new cultures.  He believed this was particularly true for the older generation whose health and survival was affected by immigration.

Stairs from the entry level to the living area
The Meyers wanted a quiet weekend retreat house and settled on a location in Beverly Shores, Indiana.  The lot they purchased was on top of a 70’ sand dune that overlooked Lake Michigan and had views to the Chicago skyline.  The home was built in 1961.  The Meyers showed great sensitivity and sensibility to the style of the home.  Their furnishings were simple and appropriately complimented the International style.  Many of the furnishings were imported from Italy, Mexico, and Israel.  Dr. Meyer loved music and played the piano himself, but not for guests.  As part of the house design Meyer requested electrical outlets and speakers be placed on the roof so that they could enjoy music and the view from the rooftop.  The Olins recall that they and the Meyers spent a fair amount of time on the roof.  Meyer also was a good photographer and carpenter.  Meyer established a photography dark room in the lower lever and a work room in the lower level of the addition.  Meyer fabricated the cabinetry in the dark room and in his work room.  His carpentry skills are evident in the casework wall he created between the master bedroom and living space on the main level.


The Meyers at first spent only weekends at the home, but eventually it became a year round residence.  Dr. Meyer commuted for a short time to his practice in Chicago.  The couple quickly fell in love with Beverly Shores and commented no other place compared to the resort community.  Mr. and Mrs. Harold Olin became lifelong friends of the Meyers.  Meyer and Olin were part of an entourage to Washington D. C. to advocate for the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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