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Historic ‘Ebony’ test kitchen finds new home in Museum of Food and Drink exhibit

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The psychedelic interior was salvaged from Chicago’s landmark Johnson Publishing Building

Image courtesy of Barbara Karant

The funky 1970s Ebony test kitchen saved from Chicago’s famous Johnson Publishing Building is moving out of storage to be featured in an upcoming exhibit from New York’s Museum of Food and Drink, Landmarks Illinois announced Tuesday.

Created in 1971 by Palm Springs-based interior designers William Raiser and Arthur Elrodwood, the test kitchen was where Ebony editor Charlotte L. Lyons tried out recipes for the magazine’s “A Date with a Dish” column. It features a central island flanked by wood cabinetry painted to match spiral orange and brown wallpaper as well as original 1970s-era appliances.

Landmarks Illinois acquired the kitchen last spring when new owners took over the former home of Chicago-based Ebony and Jet magazines at 820 S. Michigan Avenue ahead of a planned residential conversion. The 11-story structure by architect John Warren Moutoussam is a protected Chicago landmark, but the designation did not extend to its interiors.

Photo courtesy of Lee Bey

After a team of Landmarks Illinois preservationists and volunteers carefully documented the space and placed kitchen fixtures into storage, the nonprofit group then began a search for a new owner to “publicly tell the Johnson Publishing Company story, as well as other significant narratives associated with the test kitchen,” according to the request for proposals released earlier this year.

The group selected the proposal from the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) to feature the kitchen in an exhibition celebrating the impact African Americans have had on American cuisine, titled African/American: Making the Nation’s Table. The exhibit expected to tour the United States visiting multiple cities. Although currently in the fundraising phase, the show is targeting a 2020 debut.

“We are now seeking leadership gifts to produce African/American with the kitchen as its centerpiece,” said Peter J. Kim, MOFAD’s executive director, in a statement. “We look forward to connecting with individuals and companies that are interested in sharing the story of this historical treasure with millions of people around the country.”

Update: This post was updated to clarify that the test kitchen and its accompanying exhibit are expected to tour multiple cities across the country. It will not be permanently housed—and only displayed—at MOFAD in New York.