Oak Park's Beachy House shows Japanese influences

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Located on Forest Avenue in Oak Park, the Peter A. Beachy House is an example of a Frank Lloyd Wright remodel. The current Beachy home was once a Gothic cottage built for the Fargo family. Today, it encompasses that original home. The only original part remaining is the basement. The rest of the home, both interior and exterior, was significantly altered by Wright.

Emma Susan Fahrney Pratt Beachy was a divorcee with two children. Her father, Dr. Peter Fahrney, made his fortune manufacturing and patenting medicines. In 1901, she married Peter Beachy, a financial auditor with her father's company, and they lived next door to her parents in Chicago. Dr. Fahrney is said to have worked with Wright on drawings for the home, which was given as a wedding present for his daughter, and early drawings of the home are dated back to 1900. 

After Dr. Fahrney died in 1905, leaving behind a fortune estimated at $5 million, Susan purchased the Fargo property in April of 1906. The home was completed by the fall of 1907. Susan's son, Walter Pratt Beachy, would later join Wright's son, John, in founding the company that produced Lincoln Logs.

The Beachy House includes one of the area's first garages actually built with the intention of housing automobiles rather than horses. According to Wright Trust researcher Joyce Voss, cars at this time did not have the ability to reverse, so the three car garage was built with six doors, three at the front and three at the rear, to allow cars to enter and exit onto the driveway.

The home sits on what was once Oak Park's largest residential lot and is set at right angles to the street in order to use part of the Fargo House's foundation and take advantage of southern exposure. The home's orientation also allowed for the placement of a large concrete veranda which enjoys wide views of the expansive lawn.

Wright remodeled the Beachy House shortly after his return from a 1905 trip to Japan, noted Voss. The exterior of the home displays Japanese influences such as the seven-gabled roof. 

"The windows, which contain wooden muntins but no leaded or colored glass are supposed to give you the idea of a soshi screen," Voss said.

Unlike other Wright homes which used two exterior materials, either brick and wood or stucco and wood, the Beachy House incorporates four exterior elements: wood, brick, stucco and stone.

After Susan's death in 1941, Peter gained title to the home and sold it. It was subdivided into two apartments, and in the 1990s was purchased and restored to a single family home. During the restoration, a worker accidentally started a fire in the home, and the subsequent fire and water damage gave rise to a large-scale restoration of the home. The current owners have continued these restoration efforts in their remodeling of the kitchen and living spaces of the home in a preservation-minded manner. Today, the home still contains Wright-designed leaded glass light fixtures as well as Wright-designed furniture.

Voss pointed out that the current owners, Alex Harris and Carollina Song, have been careful stewards of the home in their restoration efforts. 

"Their primary concern was to be faithful to Wright while making the home family-friendly," she said. "In the kitchen and bathrooms, they used materials I think Frank would have used today, with an emphasis on choosing materials from nature."

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