Countiss Mansion

1524 North Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Built in 1917, for Eleanor Robinson Countiss (1887-1931) and her first husband, Frederick Downer Countiss (1872-1926). As a wedding present in 1910, Eleanor's father provided her with a fund with which she could eventually build a mansion of her choosing. Seven years later, she built her new home on Chicago's Gold Coast modelled on Le Petit Trianon at Versailles which she had visited as a girl. To bring it to life, the Countiss' commissioned their friend Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect, and Executive Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. It remained in the Countiss family until they sold it to Dr Max Thorek and the International College of Surgeons. Since 1954, it has been the home to the International Museum of Surgical Sciences. It is one of the few remaining lakefront mansions in Chicago and the only one open to the public.... 

This house is best associated with...

Eleanor Robinson Countiss

Mrs Eleanor (Robinson) Countiss, Whiting


Frederick Downer Countiss

F.D. Countiss, President of the Chicago Board of Trade


The 30-room mansion covers 18,000-square feet of living space. It was directly modelled on the Petit Trianon at Versailles but Eleanor's new home stood a story higher which led her to quip, "if Marie Antoinette had lived in Chicago, she would have raised it too"!

Eleanor divorced Countiss in 1923. She had fallen in love with Lawrence H. Whiting who she met while hosting the novelist Edna Ferber, then recovering from an operation to straighten her nose. The romance between Eleanor and Lawrence (who were married in 1925) reputedly inspired Ferber’s 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel So Big. As their summer home, Eleanor and Lawrence also bought Harrose Hall from Harry Selfridge, the department store pioneer who famously replicated his business model in England. 

Eleanor died prematurely in 1931. Six years later, her daughter from her first marriage, Henrietta, sued her stepfather for mismanaging Eleanor's estate and his, "extravagant and lavish manner of living" at their expense. Proceedings continued into 1938 when Lawrence Whiting accused Henrietta of removing valuables from the home. Nonetheless, the mansion remained in the family until 1954 when it was purchased by the Surgeons.

In 2017, the mansion at No. 1524 was placed on the market with its smaller neighbor at No. 1516 (also owned by the College of Surgeons) which was built by McKim, Mead & White for Edward Tyler Blair and his wife Ruby McCormick. It remains unsold.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 15/07/2020 and last updated on 11/09/2021.


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