Although the mother of all housewalks, Wright Plus, comes but once a year, preparing for it is a year-round proposition. "We start planning one week after the previous one," says Joan Mercuri, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.
Plans are well underway for the 2005 Wright Plus, set for Saturday, May 21. The Preservation Trust has announced the nine private residences that will be featured on the walk. They include four Oak Park homes designed by Wright, and three by Wright contemporaries that have never been open on the tour before.
"This year's Wright Plus offers a wonderful range of houses that span Wright's career in Oak Park," says Mercuri. One is from his early career, two date from his experimental three-year period, and the fourth, designed with Henry Webster Tomlinson, is one of his first mature Prairie designs. The housewalk will also include homes designed by architects Tallmadge & Watson, George W. Maher and Henry G. Fiddelke, as well as three of Wright's public buildings, Unity Temple, the Home and Studio and Robie House in Hyde Park.
People travel long distances to attend Wright Plus, which is often a sellout. It takes a huge effort to pull it off; 500
volunteers work the day of the event.
"Everyone helps. It's like a festival, and there's such a sense of pride in the community," says Mercuri.
Houses are chosen for Wright Plus in a variety of ways. "Homeowners will come to us. They have architecturally significant houses and put a lot of work into restoring them.
Committee, staff and board members have lots of conversations with people, know which houses are significant and will talk to owners of houses we've identified. Other people, not owners but friends, will come to us," explains Mercuri.
Logistics also enter into the final decisions. If a home has just one staircase, only the first floor can be shown to prevent gridlock and other safety hazards. That doesn't disqualify a house, but "we know people love to go upstairs," she observes.
There's a significant amount of disruption to owners who agree to lend their houses to the fundraiser. "Homeowners are so generous," she says. "We couldn't do this without the support of the community."
Volunteers are now doing research on the homes on this year's housewalk, going through public records and other written material, looking at family photos and searching out relatives of previous owners. "Sometimes an architect is unknown, but we come across research of who it is. Sometimes [a home] is known by a name, but it turns out not to be true," says Mercuri.
And sometimes previously unknown relatives are discovered and become a great resource for current owners. "It's not unusual for relatives to end up coming back for Wright Plus," she adds.
Mercuri points to the "mix of homes"â€"Wright and othersâ€"on the 2005 walk as a major selling point. "Compare the contrasting styles of the houses. You'll go away having seen wonderful representations of the time period."
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.
Harry C. Goodrich House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1896
This early experiment demonstrates the influence of the 1893 Columbian Exposition on Wright. "You can see particular elements you'd affiliate with Wright, but it's not typical," explains Mercuri. "It has a Wright look inside," and has elements similar to both the H.P. Young House, also in Oak Park, and the bootleg houses of the same period.
Previous owners did a lot of restoration work and the current owners are in the process of conducting research and doing more. Committee researchers have already uncovered relatives who are proving very helpful to the homeowners, according to Mercuri.
George W. Furbeck House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1897
This home, with its rectangular masses combined with Queen Anne towers, marks the start of Wright's period of experimentation. "This is another really interesting house you might not pick out as Wright. It's not large, but it has impact," explains Mercuri.
Rollin Furbeck House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1897
"This is a very different house from [brother] George's," says Mercuri. A transitional design experiment with massing and complex brickwork as ornamentation, the home has been restored and expanded by the present owners.
Mercuri notes that this is a good example of what you can do with a historic home: homeowners have built a "sensitively done" addition that conforms both to current lifestyles and the original design.
William G. Fricke House, Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Webster Tomlinson, 1901
Wright and Tomlinson designed this home in 1901 (they shared a brief partnership in 1901-1902). It's one of Wright's first mature Prairie designs. "This is one of my favorites," says Mercuri. "It's interesting how vertical it is, unlike Robie [House], for instance."
Restored by new owners, Fricke House has all the bells and whistlesâ€"beautiful woodwork, geometric elements, and leaded art-glass windows. It also looks out on a beautiful garden.
*Charles Erwin House, Unknown architect, 1894.
This is an example of an architecturally significant house by an unknown architect, according to Mercuri. An archetypal Victorian, it includes both Queen Anne
and Stick-style details. "There are not that many Stick styles around," she notes.
*Burton F. Hales House, Henry G. Fiddelke, 1904-1905.
Very different from the other homes on the tour (and rarely open for any event), Hales House is a large, medieval, Tudor revival-style mansion.
Dale Bumstead House, Tallmadge & Watson, 1909.
This "beautifully restored," Prairie-style house hasn't been on Wright Plus since 1981, says Mercuri. "Notice the differences from Wright, in the traffic flow and different elements used."
*Oliver N. Caldwell House, George W. Maher, 1909.
George Maher designed a number of houses in Oak Park, including Historic Pleasant Home. This is a beautiful example of his work and includes many of his signature details.
Gustavus Babson House II, Tallmadge & Watson, 1913.
Although also designed by Tallmadge Watson, this home is different in scale,pmaterials and layout from Bumstead House. It's an imposing and interesting interpretation of the Prairie style, according to Mercuri.
Walk the walk
Tickets for Wright Plus will go on sale March 1, 2005 and can be purchased by calling 848-9518, online at www.wrightplus.org, or at the Preservation Trust's two bookstores: Ginkgo Tree Bookshop, 951 Chicago Ave. or the Robie House Bookshop, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $70 for Preservation Trust members (limit four at discounted price) and $85 for non-members. The May 21, 2005 housewalk will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine (although Mercuri notes, "It's my job to bring good weather," and it rarely rains for the event.)
Also returning for the second time this year is Ultimate Plus, a four-day extravaganza set around Wright Plus that will run you $1,500 a person. Space is limited, so if you're interested, get on a waiting list by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although plans aren't yet completely finalized, Ultimate Plus will include five events over four days. It begins Thursday, May 19 with an evening reception in Heller House, a Wright home in Hyde Park. Friday is a trip to Milwaukee, Wis. with stops in Wauwatosa, Wis. at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, designed by Wright in 1956, and the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the Niedecken collection.
(George Mann Niedecken was an interior decorator who worked with Wright on 11 homes from 1907 to 1918.)
Following Saturday's housewalk will be dinner for 10 in one of four Wright homes, with cooking chores donated by celebrity chefs. Set so far are Coonley House and Coonley Playhouse in Riverside, and Adams House in Oak Park, with the fourth still to be announced. Finally, on Sunday, May 22 there will be a champagne brunch at the Carleton Hotel featuring speaker Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the City of Chicago.
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 education programs.