Glass House to Hit the Big Screen
Historic Farnsworth residence in Plano to play a starring role in upcoming Hollywood film
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but those who live near a famous glass house — soon to be the subject of a star-studded Hollywood film — should look into a visit.
That means you, west suburbanite.
Plano’s Farnsworth House, built in 1950, has been open for tours since 2003. Later this year, Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal will begin filming at what producer Matt Flanders calls “the special chunk of history in your backyard.”
The “dramatic, entertaining” story behind the building of Farnsworth House features two unusual people in the 1940s — a world-famous architect and a single woman doctor.
“She was as formidable as he was,” says Flanders.
“It’s about the complicated relationship between Mies van der Rohe and his client, Dr. Edith Farnsworth,” adds Flanders. “It’s a story of two people and this glass house that’s the perfect metaphor for the transparency that needs to happen between people for a relationship to work.”
With much of the film’s action revolving around the building of the house, it becomes “a character in the film,” says Flanders.
Farnsworth’s other dramatic story is told in a video at the visitor center — how the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with Landmarks Illinois, bought the property at auction. A last-minute donor supplemented the extraordinary $7 million raised by preservation organizations to secure the purchase.
“This unique place right here in Plano was designed by an internationally known architect whose philosophy has been emulated all around the world,” says Bonnie McDonald, Landmarks Illinois president. “You can see Mies’ influence in so many cities. Farnsworth brings it to an understandable human scale.”
Dr. Farnsworth intentionally sought seclusion when buying nine country acres (later increased to 62) from the McCormick family in the 1940s.
“It’s incredibly significant as a work of van der Rohe,” says McDonald. “This set the bar for what a modern house was going to be — open, transparent, secluded and, what sets Farnsworth apart, with a truly significant relationship to its landscape.”
The effect the transparent house on stilts has on visitors is dramatic, says Farnsworth House Executive Director, Maurice Parrish. “Many people have an emotional reaction when they experience the house as Mies designed it — along the Fox River. The overall context really does affect people deeply and stays with them.”
That’s how the movie originated. Director Richard Press’s initial visit elicited a feeling that stayed with him — he even built a glass home in upstate New York.
Farnsworth, a Chicago nephrologist who worked with children with kidney disease, chose the famous architect to design her retreat and was able to collaborate with him to create a significant work.
“The house works with its surrounding landscape . . . you see 360 degrees of openness, yet you still feel protected and able to experience nature. Dr. Farnsworth came up here all times of the year, even in the winter — you can experience the snow and the ice on the river but from a protected viewpoint.”
Farnsworth sold the house 20 years later, after the state took two acres to build a road nearby. What cost $74,000 in the late 1940s (the estimate had been $40,000) was sold in 1970 for $250,000 and is now used for private events and tours.
A visitor center sits a half mile away. Tours proceed from the center along the river until the house “reveals itself slowly — it’s part of the surprise and wonderment of it all,” says Parrish.
“Film is now one of the ways Americans discover new things. The film makers have a wonderful knowledge of and deep appreciation for Farnsworth House — we’re confident they’ll do quality work.”