Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

Iconic moments from the tail end of the eighties haunt me still: one of them the propensity for high hair and giant shoulderpads, another being the film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Although I never saw it at the cinema, I’ve watched it countless times since on video, cheering along with the crowd to “Save Ferris”, but also to sneak a glimpse of the priceless Ferrari shooting backwards out of the pristine modernist construction of his friend Cameron’s rich dad’s garage. If you haven’t seen it yet – then go and rent the movie now. Stay with it – you’ll hate the sacharine start – and if you, like me, fall in love with the car, the house, the plotline – then help is at hand at least for one of those.

The house, and the iconic garage, have just been for sale, and in doing so the world got a chance to find out exactly where that house and garage were. It was 370 Beech St, in Highland Park, Illinois, – designed by architect A James Speyer and completed in 1953. Known as the Ben Rose house, it consists of two separate steel and glass buildings cantilevered over a ravine into a wooded hillside valley (the garage was added by architect David Haid in 1975). The house was large, but not obscenely so: nearly 500m2 in size with 4 bedrooms, beautifully crafted from simple steel I beams and glass, with strong features of cedar panelling: the influence of Mies and the IIT are all pervasive throughout this property.

What’s more, the 3 car garage really was a home for rare and delectable cars: Mr Rose did indeed collect Ferraris. As Gizmodo says: this is Grade A architectural / property porn. As was the car: a 1961 Ferrari 250GT Spyder California – I howled to see it fly into instant ruins, and have only just recovered to find out that they actually built 4 replicas to trash in the filming: no real Ferraris were harmed in the making of this production.

As for the house itself? Speyer created the house for Mr Rose and his wife Francis in 1953, and the Rose family have owned it ever since; because of the cars, it was also known as the Ben Rose Auto Museum. Mr Rose died a few years back, and Mrs Rose passed away this year: hence the house is up for sale at Sothebys, with a cool price tag of $US2.3 million, on the market for the first time since its creation. Bids have closed by now – I think you may have just missed out.

Speyer himself died in the year 1986, the same year the film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off came out. Although initially trained in the neo-classical Beaux Arts style of architecture, Speyer seized on the arrival of Mies van der Rohe to Chicago and studied under Mies himself, working for Mies in the office and later setting up his own practice, gaining a well-deserved reputation in the art circle world for his sensitive treatment of paintings and their galleries.

Interestingly, most of the sites that have picked up the sale of the house have also shown the wrong external photo, showing instead a house in Enniskerry in Ireland known as the Goulding Summer House and designed 1972 by Scott Tallon Walker Architects. The obvious difference is that the Goulding house has diagonal bracing to create a cantilevered truss, and has a vigorously flowing stream at the bottom of the ravine – true afficionados of the film, the car, or the house would of course have spotted this was a mistake. Like any true Miesian pavilion, the steel frame is designed to be a rigid cantilever without any diagonal bracing, there is no stream where the car lands in the ravine and of course no diagonal bracing is evident in the film. Only the hard-working sleuths at the Architectural Centre appear to have uncovered this deception. Here’s the (still delightful) imposter below.

But enough about the house: here’s the car: first a freeze-frame of it flying (you can see why I was worried),

The cars were replicas, mainly fibreglass bodies mocked up over a cheap rolling frame below, and hence dispensable for the final denouement. The original car, as Cameron says, is one of only 100 ever made and thankfully even Hollywood doesn’t want to destroy one. Be warned however: George Barris, who fabricated the copies, was sued by Ferrari and driven to bankruptcy as a result. While to most, the young Matthew Broderick is the star of the film, to me both the car and the house deserve an equally high billing. You’ve seen the house: here is the car at last, being driven:


6 responses to “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off”

  1. …and not the only moviehouse to find its way onto the real estate market apparently – see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/21/ennis-house-los-angeles-sale

  2. Congratulations to the hard-working sleuths! It seems so obvious now you mention it – but yes, there is obviously a very pronounced difference between the two houses. And, as you say, you’re right: Mies (nor Speyer) would never have designed a steel frame with such obviously clunky diagonal bracing elements. Can’t believe no one has spotted that before.

  3. nice house – and the idea of “property porn” must be worthy of and Arch Centre blog …

  4. Frederick Avatar

    “Property Porn” – isn’t that terribly subjective? After all – One person’s porn is another person’s home movie with a loving spouse.

  5. just because something is subjective surely doesn’t mean it’s off the table for discussion and debate does it?

  6. No, not at all. I’m working on it !

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