I am on this vintage mission about miniatures and dollhouses for several reasons but to my surprise the other day in rereading old issues of Architectural Digest, I found a picture of Colleen Moore the famous actress whose dollhouse I have seen many times as it is in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. I had never seen a picture of her in her own home, I wanted to share it with you and a bit of history about a lady whose dollhouse will be cherished forever.
Silent film star Colleen Moore was always fascinated by dolls and doll houses. She owned several elaborate doll houses as a child, but later in life her father, Charles Morrison, suggested that she should pursue her passion for miniatures and doll houses by creating the "doll house" of her dreams. Her position as one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood gave her the resources to produce a miniature home of fantastic proportions. Beginning in 1928, Moore enlisted the help of many talented professionals to help her realize her vision.
Creating the Fairy Castle
Horace Jackson, an architect and set designer who worked for First National Studios, created the floor plan and layout of the castle with the basic idea that "the architecture must have no sense of reality. We must invent a structure that is everybody's conception of an enchanted castle."
Moore also enlisted the help of art director and interior designer Harold Grieve. Grieve had designed the interiors for Moore's actual mansion, so he was a natural to create the interiors of her fantasy castle.
By 1935 more than 700 individuals had lent their expertise—including surgical instrument lighting specialists, Beverly Hills jewelers and Chinese jade craftsmen. The price tag for this 8'7" x 8'2" x 7'7" foot palace, containing more than 2,000 miniatures, was nearly $500,000.
All the hard work and expense of creating the Fairy Castle becomes even more impressive when one realizes that the entire structure can be broken down into 200 individual pieces. All of the rooms are modular units that can be packed into the drawers of specially designed shipping crates.
In 1935 Colleen Moore's child-like fascination with her Fairy Castle was transformed by the Great Depression into a passion for helping children. She organized a national tour of the Fairy Castle to raise money for children's charities. The tour stopped in most major cities of the United States and was often exhibited in the toy departments of prominent department stores such as Macy's in New York City, The Fair in Chicago and May Co. in Los Angeles. A brochure from The Fair in Chicago promotes it: "A museum in itself—it awaits you—starting November 15th in our Eighth Floor Toyland. You will want to see it again and again." The tour was a huge success and raised more than $650,000 between 1935 and 1939.
Coming "Home" to the Museum
In 1949 Major Lenox Lohr, director of the Museum of Science and Industry, convinced Colleen Moore to have the Fairy Castle make one final journey. She described their encounter as follows: "When I was seated next to Major Lohr at a dinner recently in the directors' coach at the Chicago Railroad fair, he mentioned the doll house while we were having soup, and by the time dessert was served, he had the doll house!"
Today the "doll house" has been renamed the "Fairy Castle" and has its permanent home at the Museum of Science and Industry. The Fairy Castle is displayed behind glass, and the light, temperature and humidity in its environment are carefully controlled to ensure that the artifacts will be preserved for generations to come. Millions of guests have enjoyed their visit to the castle since it first arrived at the Museum, and it remains a timeless reminder of the imagination, ingenuity and craftsmanship of cultures and artisans all over the world.