Even in the dead of winter, spring is in the air at the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. The announcement of the eight private homes booked for 2006 Wright Plus signals that preparations are in full swing for the May 20 housewalk.
This year's focus is on River Forest, where all but one of the homes is located. It's part of the normal, four-year rotation for the walk, explains Joan Mercuri, preservation trust president and CEO. "It gives people the opportunity to see a different mix of architecture and a different community, and keeps the housewalk from impacting the same neighbors each year," she says.
Along with the River Forest homes, the walk will also include the Wright-designed Hills-DeCaro House in Oak Park, celebrating its centennial in 2006, and both Unity Temple and the Home and Studio. Ticket-holders may also use their tickets for up to a year for a tour of Robie House in Hyde Park, currently undergoing the second phase of an extensive restoration (see sidebar above).
Shuttle buses will run all day between locations in Oak Park and River Forest. "And it's my job to guarantee good weather," insists Mercuri, whose string of perfect sunny days for the walk is approaching eerie.
Volunteers began planning the 2006 walk straight after the 2005 event ended. Participating homes are suggested by homeowners, committee and board members, or others, and are evaluated for both aesthetics and logistics. If an otherwise perfect home can't safely handle big crowds, it won't make the cut.
Once chosen, the homes are put into the hands of volunteer researchers, who comb through building records, county records, libraries and historical societies for "anything they can find," says Mercuri. "Sometimes they meet descendents of people who used to live in the house; those relatives have been known to come back and have stories to tell."
All the research, including information gained from any relative who might show up on the day of the housewalk, is included in a report for each house. A copy goes to the owners?#34;a perk that may influence some to go through the admitted hassle of opening their homes to crowds.
"It's a big incentive to homeowners," notes Mercuri. "They know the quality of our research."
The four homes on the walk for the first time in 2006 are designed by architects other than Wright. That's part of the plan.
"We have a nice mix of architecturally significant homes and time periods ranging from 1895 to 1926. It's a nice opportunity to see how architecture developed over 30 years, how money was spent and choices were made," explains Mercuri.
No one, she adds, wants to hear about low-hipped roofs and overhanging eaves at every home. "We've always gone for the mix. That's why our founding fathers had the vision to call it Wright Plus."
Here's a list of the private homes that will be open for Wright Plus next May. Those marked with asterisks are on the tour for the first time.
? Chauncey Williams House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1895.
Last on Wright Plus in 2002, this home is Wright's "early experiment with forms and materials," says Mercuri. Wright carried some of the design ideas introduced here into later projects.
? Hills-DeCaro House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1906.
"You can see the Japanese influence in this Prairie-style house," notes Mercuri. "It's incredible."
Once a Stick-style frame house, Wright's remodel changed it completely. Exterior walls are stucco, subdivided by rough boards and windows organized in horizontal bands. The roof line has flared eaves.
The home was severely damaged by fire in the 1970s and was carefully restored by its then-owners.
According to Mercuri, the current owners have continued the restoration work, returning original exterior features, adding a new roof and restoring original colors to the interior. Recent work includes removing a non-original veranda from the back of the house and landscaping.
?Isabel Roberts House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908.
"This is one of my favorites, and the favorite of a lot of people. It's a wonderful example of this period," says Mercuri. "It is light, open, engaging?#34;the scale, proportion and detail are beautifully done."
A blend of Wright's Prairie and Usonian visions, this home includes an open, second-floor balcony overlooking the living room. Large windows let the outside in; views include gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. A side garden room with glass on three sides includes a tree growing through it?#34;one of the few original to a Wright house still in existence.
The owners have done extensive restoration and have rebuilt a coach house missing when they moved in.
? *John F. Barrett House, Architect unknown, 1893.
This Queen Anne and Shingle home is an example of a style used extensively on the East Coast and by Wright in the Home and Studio. Look for the "inventive, beautiful" shingle pattern, decorative columns, palladium windows and dormers, and large front porch, says Mercuri.
? Cyrus C. Collins House, Eben Ezra Roberts, 1906.
Last on Wright Plus in 1992, this Tudor-inspired home also features Prairie influences. The interior includes an open floor plan and "extensive, beautiful woodwork," according to Mercuri. It is a good representation of Roberts and its time period, she notes.
? *C. S. Pellet House, Spencer & Powers, 1915.
Architect Robert Spencer, Jr. was a contemporary and friend of Wright, as was his client, C. S. Pellet. The home is a good example of Tudor style, with its half-timbering and steep gables. Like many Spencer homes, it features a recurring design motif. Here it's a tulip, used in the gables, windows and light fixtures throughout the home.
? *Edward Probst House, Edward Probst, 1916.
Edward Probst was a partner in a major, Chicago-based architectural firm that designed many public buildings, including the Wrigley Building and the Civic Opera House. This is believed to be the only private home he designed, according to Mercuri. It has Prairie elements including a low-hipped roof; wide, overhanging eaves; and groups of leaded glass windows.
? *William Sloan House, White & Weber, 1926.
Built for the inventor of the tankless toilet (perhaps the reason for its 12 bathrooms), this home was later the residence of the Comiskey family. Its Georgian Revival style was very much in fashion in the 1920s. Architect Charles White, who worked for Wright in the early 1900s, also designed the Oak Park post office.
Tickets for Wright Plus go on sale March 1, and can be purchased by calling 848-9518, online at www.wrightplus.org or at the Ginkgo Tree Bookshop at 951 Chicago Ave. Ticket prices are $70 for preservation trust members and $85 for non-members.
Returning for the third time this year is Ultimate Plus, a four-day extravaganza that runs $1,500 for members and $1,600 for non-members, although tickets for some of the events can be purchased separately. Ultimate Plus tickets also go on sale March 1.
The Ultimate Plus weekend begins with a Thursday, May 18 evening reception at Wright's Rollin Furbeck House (only available as part of the weekend package).
Friday is a trip to Crabtree Farms in Lake Bluff, home to an extensive collection of Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative objects, and to Ragdale, the summer retreat of Howard Van Doren Shaw that is now an artists' community in Lake Forest. Tickets to the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tour can be purchased separately at $85 for members and $100 for non-members.
Following Saturday's 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. housewalk will be dinner for 10 in one of four Wright homes, with cooking chores handled by celebrity chefs. Dinner sites this year are the Avery Coonley House in Riverside, the Sherman M. Booth House in Glencoe, the Arthur Heurtley House in Oak Park, and the Guy C. Smith House in Beverly. Anyone interested in dinner only can pony up $1,250 (members) or $1,350 (non-members). Space is limited and likely to sell out, so get your reservations in early.
Finally, on Sunday morning, May 21, there will be a brunch at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park featuring speaker Rolf Achilles, an independent art historian who will give a presentation on Wright's influence on European fine and decorative art. The brunch is also available at $80 for members and $95 for non-members.
The preservation trust is now recruiting volunteers for Wright Plus. Some training is involved. Volunteers get to tour the homes on preview night, and are invited to a party that follows the walk. Call 848-1976 or see the website, www.wrightplus.org (click on "volunteer") for more information.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust manages the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the Frederick C. Robie House. Proceeds from Wright Plus and Ultimate Plus fund its restoration, preservation and educational programs.