Even in the atomic era, The Frost House was a rare Mid Century Modern find.
Imagine piling into the family station wagon late on a Saturday morning for an excursion spent exploring new model homes. No, you aren’t looking to buy. Instead, like millions of Americans during the booming, optimistic years after World War II, you are eager to cross the threshold into the home of tomorrow.
Dr. Robert Frost and Mrs. Amelia Frost may have started off their day in much the same manner when they stepped inside what would later be called The Frost House. Located in Michigan City, Indiana, the Alside Homes abode was an oddity even then in 1964, with its flat roof and prefabricated aluminum and baked-enamel finishes, described by the current owners as an industry first.
The Frosts must have been quite taken with the abode, Karen Valentine, one of the current owners, says. And somehow Dr. Frost convinced them to sell him the sales model. Then he quickly purchased the vacant lot next door so nobody could build next to his modernist little piece of luxury,” Karen explains, revealing the origins of a home that would sit unchanged for more than 50 years.
Mid Century Treasure Trove
In fact, the home was still untouched when a generation later, Karen and her husband, Bob Coscarelli, first fell in love with it. “It was an Internet posting that drew us to it. We just saw all those long linear lines and all those fabulous neon colors, and I said, ‘I want it.’ We purchased it without even viewing it. We just saw the real estate photos and made a bid,” says Karen.
The Frosts had been the only prior owners, so when Karen and Bob decided they wanted to preserve the home as much as possible, they called it The Frost House and immediately set about getting the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We were more about preservation rather than renovation. The story of the home is such an unusual story, especially in the Midwest,” says Karen.
The home’s shape takes after the international style of architecture at the time as well as the modern movement, says Karen. But the home is also a rare find in that the structure ushers in the outdoors through larger-than-life glass panels. The surrounding verdant Midwest foliage peeks inside to gaze at minimalist but richly decorated interiors, which were the result of a collaboration between master furniture designer Paul McCobb, who designed the built-in furniture and kitchen, and the American design firm Knoll, which supplied the choices for the minimalist furnishings.
A Prefabricated Home
But the house is unique in other ways too. It was engineered by Emil Tessin for the now nonoperational Alside Homes Corporation based in Akron, Ohio, which had figured as an important player in the early prefabricated housing movement.
With glass walls and aluminum panels fitted into a steel framework, the house’s specific design was patented and presented a different and beautiful point of departure from other futuristic houses. The William Krisel-designed House of Tomorrow in Palm Springs, the Monsanto House of the Future at Disneyland and even the General Electric Showcase House differ from The Frost House in terms of both style and design.
Plus, no one can really say for certain how many homes were sold by Alside Homes Corporation. Karen and Bob’s best guess is that 200 or so models rolled off the production line, but the couple have only been able to locate 26 of these across seven states, from Illinois to Ohio. Many of these houses have pitched roofs, not like The Frost’s flat one, making the home even more unique.
Karen and Bob’s new neighbors offered them a stack of Alside Homes sales materials and even a script that had been written for salespeople during home tours. “They were really selling people a lifestyle and controlled every element of the sales experience.” Of all the interesting tidbits Karen discovered, perhaps the most fascinating is that Emil Tessin had been the son of Emil Albert Tessin, the legal guardian of Florence Knoll.
Unfortunately, Alside’s homes didn’t sell. There are likely a lot of reasons, but the top contender for Karen is, “I really think the style was probably too contemporary for the Midwest. Interestingly enough,” she continues, “Emil Tessin went on to live in California, because The Frost House really feels like a Californian home. I think the use of color—from the exterior into the interior—is quite unusual, and they’re really bold colors.”
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of August 21, 2020 (thanks to the diligent work by Karen and Bob), the home will hopefully remain the same for future generations to enjoy.
Back to today, Karen and Bob have recently sold the home, passing on the torch to new, millennial owners eager to carry on the legacy they have inherited. Now, tucked away on a nondescript street in northern Indiana sits this gem from the atomic era, ready to be cherished by yet another car full of admirers.
How to Transform a Home into a National Treasure
Designated a historic place, The Frost House is now a celebrated mid century landmark.
After purchasing the home in 2016, Karen and Bob immediately began getting The Frost House listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a process that took four years to complete. Read along to discover how Karen was able to turn her Mid Century Modern home into a landmark designation and how you might be able to do the same.
- Start by reaching out to your city’s historical society. They should be able to link you to contacts on the state level. Karen met with a member of the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Committee. This member was able to connect Karen with contacts at Indiana Landmarks.
- Committees and boards that approve a home’s application only meet so often during a year. Thus, it is important to work with a consultant who understands the process, says Karen. Karen worked with a local preservation and design consultant who helped her prepare her application to ensure its accuracy and timeliness.
- You may want to consider turning your property into an easement, guaranteeing that your home is left untouched by any future alterations and renovations. “But this is a big ask,” cautions Karen, who explains an easement means leaving your property to the state as opposed to any family members.
- Next, submit your application for Determination of Eligibility to your state’s historic preservation office. If it is approved, you can then proceed with the nomination. This step may incur some costs, which is why Karen applied for a grant from the Indiana Modern committee.
- If you are working with a consultant as Karen and Bob did, this person will help you draft supporting documentation and images of the space to submit to the State Historic Review Board. Once these are submitted, you will wait for a decision. The process can take between two to four years, Karen says.
Learn more about short and fascinating history of the Frost House’s builder, Alside Homes. Curious about other Midwest modern gems? Get an inside look at Eero Saarinen’s Miller House. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Mid Century Modern inspiration!