|Washington Porter Sr.|
Porter Sr. was born in Boone County, Illinois, in 1844 or 1846 and died in 1922. He was a civil war veteran. By the 1890s, Washington Porter Senior's fruit company was handling eight thousand carloads of fruit a year. Porter became wealthy and started buying up prime Chicago real estate. The Tribune described Porter as "one of Chicago's opulent citizens, a typical Westerner, and withal a character."
WASHINGTON PORTER JR'S KIOSK SPHINX MUSEUM.
The "Kiosk Sphinx" was the name given to an unusual private museum at 4044 Oakenwald Avenue which was the back yard of his deceased parent's house at 4043 Lake Park Avenue. It was designed and built (from 1928 to 1933) at a cost of $350,000 by eccentric Chicago millionaire Washington Porter Jr. in the Oakland community of Chicago, to house Porter Jr. antique collections and to rival the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair.
The tower was easily seen from Lake Shore Drive, was supposed to have been entirely covered in stone with a huge illuminated glass sphinx at the top, which gives us the “Sphinx” half of the name. The “Kiosk” refers to the Ottoman Empire term for a free-standing garden pavilion – and the sphinx was to be on top of a towering kiosk, thus the name. But it was never finished.
|Looking Southwest at the Kiosk Sphinx and Porter Mansion.|
|The penthouse, grotto, and terrace are a few of the many extraordinary features of the architecturally unusual Kiosk Sphinx, the dream house which Washington Porter Jr. has erected after six years of work and an expenditure of $350,000. Society was finally given an opportunity to view the sunken gardens, cascades, and other oddities of design at a "gala opening" on May 23, 1934. The photo was taken in April 1934.|
Note the Vault Lights (prism glass) used on the patio.
|The 150 ft. tower, an Egyptian obelisk called the Kiosk Sphinx, is being completed on the Washington Porter Jr. estate on May 12, 1934, at 4043 Lake Park Ave. in Chicago. The tower was to have a 15x15 foot illuminated winged sphinx made of glass sitting at the top so it could be visible to motorists on Lake Shore Drive. Porter Jr. said, "All the old emperors had their kiosks, and I have mine." The sphinx would never make it to the top of the tower.|
Washington Porter Jr. was an obsessive collector of art and antiques. Porter Jr. built at the rear of his parent's old mansion the unusual structure consisted of a combined residence and private museum for Porter's collections. Also built was a 15 story metal-framed observation tower, built to observe the 1933 World's Fair, which was never given its complete stone cladding and a fifteen-foot illuminated glass sphinx at the very top. Porter referred to this glass figure as the "Kiosk Sphinx" (i.e. the Kiosk's Sphinx) and gave this name to the entire complex. It also derived from Porter's interest in Egyptian antiquities which were among the treasures displayed in his private galleries.
Among his objects was a considerable amount of table silver marked with an "N" which he has claimed belonged to the first Napoleon. The variety of the collection is indicated by the fact that he claimed that his goldfish had a value of four or five thousand dollars.
Porter Jr. never had the opportunity to spend much time at his dream building. His financial resources were stretched by the project, and he was constantly being sued for unpaid debts and other legal difficulties.
In September of 1942, after a small fire, the building seems to have been condemned and the collections bought at a Sheriff's Sale for $17,500, according to the newspapers, by Mrs. Logan who has headed a society for what she terms "Sanity in Art" and has conducted a campaign against modernism in various Chicago galleries.
An exasperated judge ordered Porter Jr. to get a job and see a psychiatrist. Instead, Porter Jr. fled to California and the house became “a spectacular ruin,” after neighborhood people looted it over several weeks in September of 1942.
The “Sphinx Kiosk” was left to rot until it was finally demolished in 1957 to make way for the 2nd phase of the Chicago Housing Authority's Lakefront Properties which included two-story row houses, the Olander Homes and Washington Park Homes.
Amended: During 1962 and 1963, two projects were completed on the near South Side. The first was the Washington Park Homes. It is made up of 67 buildings on 27 scattered sites in the area bounded by 39th and 63rd Streets, and from Lake Michigan west to Stewart Avenue. Seven of the buildings were 16-story high rises of the same design as Robert Taylor Homes. These buildings contained a total of 1,065 units.
On the site of the “Sphinx Kiosk” at 4040 S. Oakenwald Ave., CHA constructed a high-rise that was the first in the complex which became known as the Lakefront Properties. The remaining 378 units of the Washington Park Homes were located in 60 groups of two-story row houses.
Porter Jr. died in the 1980s and his ashes were scattered in Lake Michigan.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Another fascinating story with fabulous photos! How sad he saw all lost and his project demolished. Curious how he spent his last years.ReplyDelete
Fascinating story. Hard to believe Housing projects replaced it. What a lost treasure.ReplyDelete
The photos are really interesting. I never knew about this. You need to write a few books about all these interesting facts. 😀ReplyDelete
Its a shame looters were in the museum. How many art works were taken. Its a twisted tale. Thanks Neil!ReplyDelete
Amazing story. So much to learn from the past, yet we seldom do.ReplyDelete
unbelievable architecture on this home and the art collection is indescribable. this man obviously had a lot of time to devote to thisReplyDelete
Sheila Siarkiewicz says...fascinating article and pictures.ReplyDelete
A Chicago I never knew.ReplyDelete
Just because you have money doesn't mean you are a little bit daft. It would have been good if he were compelled to seek help. A shame that this place was torn down.ReplyDelete
Fascinating article. I really enjoyed this.ReplyDelete
Washington Porter Sr was my grandmother’s uncle. Love the back story on his son’s wildly ambitious use of the family nest egg. Certainly amused and entertained Chicagoans with the lavish architecture and art collection. Glory days … turned to dust.ReplyDelete