Louise Speaks: Day 27 Con’t: After another hectic morning in Chicago it was fun to get out of town a bit and head to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. We always try and see any of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings when we travel and this one particularly because it was his home for 20 years and where he raised his 6 children. As we went in to purchase tickets for the tour I asked about Gracie going on the tour. I said she was a service dog but I didn’t bring her papers because in AZ we don’t have to show papers. They said of course she can go on the tour, that was not a problem. They were very pet friendly and welcomed Gracie at every junction of the tour. We had to wait about a half hour but that gave us time to shop.
Once the tour began there are always interesting facts about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings. Since this was his home it was interesting to see how he could live in such a beautiful home at such a young age. Apparently Frank Lloyd Wright purchased the property and built the home in 1889 with a $5,000 loan from his employer Louis Sullivan. Frank was 22 at the time, and newly wed to Catherine Tobin. The Wrights raised six children in the home. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and declared a National Historic Landmark four years later in 1976.
The tours are always very informative because they tell us how the buildings were and how they became what they are today. The homes original 1889 structure was quite small. It was extensively remodeled in 1895, when among other changes the kitchen was enlarged and converted to a dining room, the upstairs nursery was expanded and converted for use as Catherine’s dayroom, and the Children’s Playroom and a new kitchen were added to the back of the house. The children’s playroom has an incredible design and was not only designed for children and play but also education. For example Frank Lloyd Wright put a Grand Piano in the play room but built it into the wall. As you go out the stairs, the entire back of the piano is supported and just hanging over the stairs. All the windows in the room were only 3 feet off the ground and there was a loft area if the children wanted to put on a play.
A second major addition was made in 1898, when the Studio and Connecting Corridor were built. The studio was added on in such a way that you had to go outside to access it. Mr. Wright didn’t like this especially in winter so he made a hallway so that he would have access to the house. He didn’t want to loose any of the trees so he built the hall around the tree and had it growing right through the roof. After 1909, the Studio was converted into a residence for his wife and the younger children. Later on, the Home and Studio became an apartment building. In the 1960s it fell into disrepair as the owners began to neglect the property due to financial problems. The longtime roofing company entrusted by Frank Lloyd Wright, took control of the property. In 1974, the structure was handed over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the 13-year restoration began. Staying true to Frank Lloyd Wrights fashion, the second floor of his studio is actually held together with bolts and chains suspending from a pointed ceiling. Even though this studio became private residences and has had different owners, no one every thought of cutting the chains. This is a good thing as it is the chains and only the chains that are keeping the roof from falling.
Mr. Wright also was a smart business man. He knew that in the lobby it was to show his status and that he was worth every penny he charged. So the lobby had leather and gold wall paper and the highest quality of wood. But the studio was very plain with no windows at eye level. He wanted his clients to focus only on the drawings and what he was suggesting and not be distracted in any way.
As part of our tour we were able to take an audio walking tour of the neighborhood where several of Frank Lloyd Wright homes are located. These homes are all occupied with families but it’s hard to be on the same street as Frank Lloyd Wrights own home and live in a home he designed and built and not be shared with the public. We were given audio speakers where you pressed a button and it told you all about the home. What a great neighborhood to live in. It was like a walking museum of gorgeous homes. Now this neighborhood is pretty upscale so even the homes that are NOT Mr. Wrights are still pretty impressive.
One of the houses is known as the Arthur B. Heurtley House was built in 1902. It was in poor condition until the current owners, who purchased the house in 1997, completed a five year long museum-grade restoration of the home. The main living area is on the second floor with a children’s playroom and laundry area on the first. The wide, low entrance arch is actually the entrance.
Another one of my favorites was the Laura Gale House. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1909. The home has been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historid Places since March 5, 1970. The house was occupied by its original owner until 1962 when architect Howard Rosenwinkel purchased the home and undertook a meticulous restoration..
This was one of the best tours I have ever been of of Frank Lloyd Wrights creations. It was very informative, interesting and the guide was actually funny but full of knowledge. We could keep the audio players all day if we choose and have the descriptions repeat. The walking tour is one long block with 10 Frank Lloyd Wright homes. The homes in between were just as beautiful and it was a great day for a walk. Both these tours were only $21.00, much less than other Frank Lloyd Wright tours.
Oak Park holds other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings but we spent so much time here we were unable to see any of the others. For example the Unity Temple was covered in a tent and is undergoing a major renovation and the Robbie House back in Chicago had just taken the last tour of the day when we arrived. The Robbie House is actually on the campus of the University of Chicago. It was designed and built between 1908 and 1910. We were able to see the outside and the grounds of the Robbie House but not take the tour. I guess that is yet another reason to come back to Chicago.
After this full day it was time to get back to Chicago to see the Sky Line at night. I’ve seen it in pictures many times but I wanted to have a birds eye view and see it in person. The day planned out right as it was coming to an end and it was just about dusk. It is time to say good bye to Chicago and spending the day with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings makes for a great farewell.
As always I love Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings and tours will always rate an A+ with me. I can’t wait to come back to Chicago and Illinois and visit the buildings I’ve missed.