Gidwitz House: A Modern home in historic Kenwood
Wealthy industrialists who wanted to live near their South Side factories first settled into Kenwood in the late 1800s, filling the neighborhood with grand mansions. But one house stands out from the rest: the Modernist home of Gerald Gidwitz.
by CAC docents John Hug, class of 1999, and Maria Corpuz, class of 1996
Every home has a three-pronged story—of architecture, architect and its first owner. Built in the midst of Kenwood’s traditional brick and stone mansions is Gidwitz’s Mid-Century Modern house from 1946, with simple, clean lines that practically jump out at you. Construction took place during World War II, when building materials were limited; the home was set on the foundation of a house that previously stood on the lot and retained its central fireplace, thus qualifying it as a “remodel.”
Architect Ralph Rapson (1914–2008) designed this home. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the Cranbrook Academy, he was head of design for the New Bauhaus School (now IIT School of Design) in Chicago during the 1940s. Despite being born with a deformed right arm that required amputation, Rapson learned to draw and worked at his drafting board using the T-squares and triangles of the day to create his designs.
The home’s owner, Gerald Gidwitz (1906–2006), joined his father’s box business in 1927 after graduating from the University of Chicago. Shortly after, Gidwitz and his business partner Louis Stern acquired a nearly bankrupt company that made facial mud packs from clay dug from the Arkansas River: Peach Bloom Facial Mask. The business, renamed Helene Curtis after Stern’s wife and son, grew to be a major publicly traded cosmetics and salon products company. A staunch conservative, Gerald Gidwitz’s choice of the Modernist style for his home was anything but.
The Kenwood neighborhood is full of stories. We look forward to sharing more of them with you when the CAC is able to resume walking tours and other activities as soon as it is possible to do so safely. Please visit our COVID-19 information page for the latest updates.