Kadner: Man’s vision fulfilled in storybook home
By Phil Kadner email@example.com August 21, 2013 9:22PM
Updated: September 23, 2013 2:16PM
Ted Weber would like to give his house away but can’t find any takers.
Weber is the owner, tour guide and creative force behind the Weber House and Gardens in Streator, which is about 80 miles southwest of Orland Park.
On his two acres, he has created about 14 separate gardens surrounding an English Tudor-style home where he grew up.
A former Chicago radio and TV personality, Weber returned to Streator to help his aging and ailing parents about 30 years ago.
To alleviate his boredom, he created what has become a tourist attraction, drawing people from hundreds of miles away.
During a recent vacation, my wife and I toured a few of the small farm towns that surround the Southland, and a friend had suggested paying a visit to the Weber House.
I’m not a gardener and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of spending more than an hour on the road to see some flowering plants. But Weber, whose picture should appear next to the word “eccentric” in the dictionary, made the trip a memorable one.
The house is on a residential street and can’t be seen from the road (visitors are asked to park on the road’s shoulder).
An Alice-in-Wonderland-style gate with a plaque announcing the Weber House greets tourists. To gain entry, you ring a doorbell.
A man’s voice over a speaker said he was busy but would be out to greet us in a few minutes and begged for patience.
Weber himself, it turned out, was the speaker and conducts most of the guided tours of his home and gardens.
As the door opens, visitors are greeted to the site of a storybook-style home fronted by a large, flowered garden.
Weber, in his 70s now, explained that he would take us around the place and urged us to follow his instructions.
He is meticulous in his presentation, although his description of the home and gardens is often interrupted by tales of his days as a radio personality in Chicago, the celebrities he has met and his general disdain for the people of Streator.
He apologizes for the fact that his gardens are not as varied as he would like. He has paid for everything himself, he explained, and run out of money. So he has been forced to transplant his plants from one area and replant them in another.
I thought the front garden was beautiful and figured that was all there was to see. But as we followed a narrow path that winds around the Weber House, we came across a small archway covered with vines that leads to another garden.
This would happen time and time again until I lost track of how many gardens we had seen or where we were on the property.
There is a theme to each garden, accented by statuary of some sort, most personally hauled into place by Weber himself.
All of the gravel covering the numerous paths and surrounding the gardens has been hand-placed by Weber over the years as well.
“Every plant, every piece of gravel, everything was done by me,” he boasted.
At one point, we came across a children’s playhouse built by Weber’s parents, where he and his sister played as children. At another point, we came to a converted garage named after a cat (Luther’s Hall) that roamed onto the property and stayed.
The interior of the garage has been made to look like an English sitting room, and visitors are served punch after their guided tour.
Weber said he’s not particularly fond of children because they trample over everything and won’t follow his directions.
Despite that, he said, one December he and his sister decided to host Santa Claus in Luther’s Hall. They strung Christmas lights throughout the gardens, hired a Santa, offered punch and cookies.
“And no one showed up,” he said. “It was free of charge, and no one came.”
Weber is not fond of his hometown. He contends that he has begged for help with his gardens, informed organizations that he is willing to donate his home and property when he dies, and no one has shown any interest.
He has contacted high schools, colleges and garden clubs looking for volunteer help, and no one has expressed any interest, he said.
“I just want to know all the work I’ve put into this place won’t be lost when I’m gone,” Weber said. “But then I think of the place that way, overgrown and uncared for, after I pass.”
After the tour of the gardens, there is a tour of Weber House itself. The voice of a famous ghost greets visitors in the vestibule.
Weber tells stories about the celebrities he met in TV and radio, including Myrna Loy and Burr Tillstrom, the latter the creator of the popular Kukla, Fran and Ollie children’s TV show. They and many others were frequent visitors to his house when they working in Chicago, Weber said.
Each room has a special design, and the bedrooms all have their own names and themes.
There are photographs and memorabilia everywhere, and Weber sprinkles in stories of Streator history along with his personal experiences.
Streator was named after Worth S. Streator, an Ohio industrialist who financed the town’s first coal mines. It is the birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto.
And in the 1930s, it was known as the “Glass Manufacturing Capitol of the World” because of its large glass bottle industry.
‘There’s not much here today,” Weber tells guests. “There’s not much culture. It’s a poor place. And they still don’t promote my house and my gardens.”
He asks for an $8 donation from guests for his guided tour.
“It really doesn’t pay for much,” he said, “but it helps.”
He walks us to the gate and says goodbye. He has to get back to his planting. He’s starting a new garden.