By Lauren Eve | Photos by Victoria McHugh Photography
At Pier 194, on the shores of the Cedar Point Park subdivision, sits a circa-1961, midcentury modern house painted a distinctive shade of pink that has remained nearly untouched by the passing of time. Purchased by the Dorner family shortly after it was constructed, “The Pink House,” as it is affectionately named, is still owned by that family today. Their multi-generational ownership tells a story, more than a century in the making, of summers spent in Williams Bay.
The Pink House has been a beloved fixture in the Dorner family for more than six decades. “I remember spending the whole summer up here [at the lake] from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” recalls Terry Dorner, a second-generation owner of The Pink House. “Lake Geneva was the greatest playground a kid could ask for. I find myself inviting people in [to the house] just to tell the story.”
Here’s the story Terry tells: The Dorners purchased The Pink House in 1961, but the family had begun summering in Williams Bay long before that. The Dorners trace their roots back to Anton Dorner, Terry’s grandfather, who arrived in America in the early 1900s as a first-generation German immigrant. A trained baker, Anton Dorner came to Chicago and took a job at the local Heinemann’s Bakery, working diligently for founder William Heinemann. Eventually, Anton Dorner would purchase the bakery from Heinemann in 1935. Every summer beginning in the 1920s, Anton and his wife and children boarded a train from the busy streets of Chicago to the serene village of Williams Bay for a relaxing summer vacation, renting cottages or staying in one of Williams Bay’s small, family-run boarding houses. (The Belmont Hotel was a family favorite.)
This tradition continued for more than three decades. Then, during the summer of 1961, Anton’s son, Herb Dorner, went on a walk along the Shore Path one morning and noticed a pink house under construction in Cedar Point Park. He decided to make an offer to buy the house from the builder, though Terry says the offer was initially rejected. However, the builder must have had a change of heart. Before the summer ended, he contacted Herb Dorner, and asked if he was still interested in purchasing the house. Without hesitation, Herb Dorner bought The Pink House, forever etching the property into their family history.
Over the years, the Chicago bakery continued to keep the Dorner family very busy. The original store purchased by Anton Dorner in 1935 eventually became the largest family- owned bakery in the Chicagoland area, expanding its reach from stand-alone bakery stores to independent grocers, and even partnering with the renowned Dominick’s Finer Foods grocery chain to sell its goods. The bakery was deeply rooted in Chicago tradition, and attracted locals and celebrities who couldn’t resist their delectable treats. “Film director Alfred Hitchcock would patronize the Heinemann’s Bakery at the La Salle Street train station during the filming of ‘North by Northwest’ in 1959,” says Terry. “And in 1998, our bakery had the privilege of providing basketball legend Michael Jordan with a spectacular cake to celebrate his 35th birthday.”
Today, The Pink House keeps the family returning to Williams Bay summer after summer. Since purchasing the home 62 years ago, the Dorners have remained committed to preserving the home’s original character and midcentury-modern charm, while seamlessly blending in new updates. The five-bedroom, two-bath house still features many original architectural and design elements. In the living room, a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams creates a sense of space and openness, an effect which is enhanced by an open, floating staircase and a freestanding, wood-burning fireplace. A first-floor den features a stunning monkey pod wood accent wall. From the living room and dining area, a wall of sliding-glass doors leads to the outdoor deck, providing unmatched views of Geneva Lake from the point.
In the kitchen, the mosaic tile backsplash featuring a sailing theme was designed and installed in the 1960s by Terry’s mother, Vi Dorner, who celebrated her 100th birthday in January. Both Vi and Herb Dorner were talented amateur artists, and their art liberally decorates each room. Terry says these personal touches serve as a reminder that The Pink House has been a labor of love over many decades, one that continues today. Extending the creativity, Terry and his sister Melinda recently crafted a unique, handmade side table in the living room by repurposing parts of the original kitchen counter, which included a 1961 recessed blender. Repurposed in the side table, the blender still works, and provides refreshing summer beverages for friends and family.
In addition to the original art in the house, over the years, the Dorner family has filled The Pink House with treasured family heirlooms, including a 106-year-old Kimball player piano, vintage family photo albums from the 1920s and 1930s, and a large wall of framed mementos from the 1960s to today, including a vintage map, Geneva Lake Sailing School diplomas and family photos.
Today, the Dorner family is on its third generation in the Pink House, and they continue to hold a deep appreciation for the Lake Geneva area. In September of 2022, Terry’s son, Casey Dorner, and his fiancée Erin Duffy chose Williams Bay’s Pier 290 for their wedding reception, nearly a century after his great-grandfather, Anton, first started bringing his family to the lake. “We plan to carry on the family tradition and make memories for generations to come [at The Pink House],” Casey says.
For neighbors and frequent visitors to the area, The Pink House has become a recognizable piece of the history of Geneva Lake. “The original pink exterior color of the house has become quite iconic for the neighborhood over the years, and will remain untouched,” says Terry. After 62 years, the home continues to serve as a bastion of leisurely summers and carefree days, much as it did when it was first built decades ago. “With each passing year, and the arrival of new generations, The Pink House provides a place where time seems to slow down,” Terry explains. “There is such a generational vibe around Cedar Point. You run into people whose grandparents have been coming [to the lake] for generations.”
For the Dorner Family, The Pink House still holds a timeless connection to the century-old family tradition of summers spent in Williams Bay. With a firm commitment to keeping the house in the family and passing it down through generations, the future of The Pink House promises new memories waiting to be created on Geneva Lake. “The Pink House makes it easy for us to get the family together,” says Terry. “It feels good to continue that legacy and tradition. We have created so many family memories together over the years — it has become a symbol of unity and brings joy for everyone.”