Storybook home with the unique roof to be featured on Wright Plus

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The Frank Long House on Linden Avenue in Oak Park has been beguiling residents and visitors of Oak Park for generations. For the first time in 30 years, this Oak Park gem with the unique undulating roof will be featured on Wright Plus 2013 and open to the public.

In a suburb made famous for Prairie design and Frank Lloyd Wright residences, the Long House stands apart in its architectural heritage. The cottage- style home looks as if it should be sitting on a rolling hill in the English countryside, rather than the western suburbs of Chicago. Leon Stanhope, the Chicago-based architect behind the Long House's singular style, was a contemporary of Wright, but rather than embracing the new Prairie Style, he looked back in time in designing a home that combines the charm of a pastoral dwelling with the grandeur expected of a home in the estate section of Oak Park.

Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, notes that interested visitors often ask about the oddly roofed home.

"This is one of those homes that comes up many times," he says. "The very distinctive, thatched roof look is very uncommon in this area. To actually have that sort of appearance survive is really neat. One time I helped a gentleman trying to find his childhood home, and he couldn't remember the street name, but he remembered that he lived near the home with that wavy roof. It is so striking and so different that people are really drawn to it."

Lipo recalls that several years ago when he served on the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission, the owners of the home came before the commission regarding a proposed addition to the house. "The historic commission is mostly advisory, but we were thrilled that they wanted to match the original roof style in the addition."

Not a thatched roof

The wavy roof has earned the home the nickname the "hobbit house" because of its resemblance to a tiny dwelling that seems to rise from the ground, sporting a roof made of natural materials. While the home's distinctive roof appears to be made of thatching, it is, in reality, constructed of wood. Often, these types of roofs are made up of steamed cedar shingles, which have the ability to be shaped in curved formations. A custom gutter system and a certain amount of creative underlying construction are also required to support the heavy materials.

The roof is a large part of what makes the Long House an example of the storybook style that was popular for a brief time in the 1920s. Very few homes of this style were built in the western suburbs and the Long House's large size makes it unique for what is usually considered a style represented by much smaller homes.

The original owner

Frank E. Long, a publisher from downstate Illinois, was born in 1865. By the standards of the time, he was already an elderly man when he commissioned architect Leon Stanhope to design the home in 1924. Long began his career downstate working for a manufacturer of agricultural implements and became the company's representative for publicity in Chicago, necessitating a move to the area. He eventually became vice president of operations, and one of the company's publications lists his hobbies as motoring and fishing. He lived in several Oak Park homes before hiring Long to build the Linden Avenue house.

Stanhope did not design a lot of houses in the Oak Park and River Forest area, leading to the home's unique presence in the area. It's location in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District makes it a prime candidate for a housewalk like Wright Plus.

Wright Plus

The Long House is one of nine private homes featured on the 39th Annual Wright Plus tour of homes that will take place on May 18. Others on this year's tour include Wright's Harry S. Adams Home, the Louisa and Harry Goodrich Home and the Robert P. Parker Home. Homes designed by hometown favorite architects E.E. Roberts and John S. Van Bergen will also be featured.

As in past years, tickets to Wright Plus also allow participants entry to other area architectural wonders, for instance, Wright's Home and Studio, Unity Temple and the Robie House. For those looking to expand their weekend of architecture, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust offers a Wright Plus Friday Excursion that includes a tour of Wright's Usonian Laurent House and a visit to the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, as well as stop at the historic 1847 Belvidere cemetery to view the Wright-designed Petit Memorial Chapel.

The Wright Preservation Trust offers several packages that allow architecture buffs to get the most out of their weekend. The Ultimate Plus Package includes accommodations and offers an extended weekend experience. Participants can also purchase Wright Plus Fast Passes, allowing them to avoid lines at the homes on this year's tour.

Wright Plus is usually a sold out event, and advanced purchase is required. Tickets are $85 for preservation trust members and $100 for the general public. Packages and additional event prices vary.

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