Chicago foundation pledges $10 million toward Unity Temple restoration

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

As part of a joint campaign, Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple could receive $10 million toward the cost of restoration efforts, according to a preliminary agreement announced today in a joint statement from the Alphawood Foundation of Chicago and the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Alphawood pledged to donate the money to fund the overhaul of the 105-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright building, but as part of the agreement, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation (UTRF) must raise the balance of the necessary funds to aid the project.

Jim McDonough, executive director of the Alphawood Foundation, said it's too early to talk specifics, since the logistics of how the congregation, UTRF, and Alphawood will work together to reach the goal has not been finalized.

"We've got a lot of the details to work out yet," McDonough said. "All we know right now is Alphawood Foundation stepped up and said it will give $10 million to this. There is a lot more money to raise to complete this project and do this right."

More details however, were explained in a letter to members of Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The letter states that Alphawood would work with the congregation to either restructure Unity Temple Restoration Foundation or create a new preservation organization to manage fundraising, restoration and preservation of Unity Temple, as well as oversee public programming and tours.

"The new organization initially will focus on launching an external capital campaign to raise the balance of the funds necessary to restore the building and fund an endowment for the long-term preservation of Unity Temple," according to the letter.

The negotiations are in the preliminary stages, the two groups said, but the letter also states that if the restoration campaign succeeds, the congregation would transfer legal ownership of Unity Temple to the new preservation organization. This would occur if the restoration campaign hits 80 percent of the total funding needs for restoration and preservation work, plus an endowment to cover the cost of future restoration and repair work.

According to the letter, bringing in the support of Alphawood opens additional resources to preserve the temple in ways that are well beyond the means of the congregation. In addition, the congregation would have the right to continue its use of the building, and it would free them from the demands and expenses of maintaining a historic building.

Unity Temple, completed in 1908, is Frank Lloyd Wright's first public building and the oldest still put to its original use by its owners. It is generally recognized as one of Wright's foremost works and is internationally known as one of the early buildings of the Modern movement. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and is universally considered to be one of the most important buildings of the 20th century.

"Alphawood's gift will have an immensely important impact on the future of Unity Temple," wrote Emily Roth, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, in a news release. "The UTRF Board of Directors is grateful to Alphawood Foundation for magnifying its enthusiastic support and entering into this agreement."

In 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Unity Temple on its list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, noting that, "while the building has generally been well maintained, water infiltration has caused extensive damage to the concrete structure and interior finishes over the years."

"The Alphawood Foundation is committed to supporting efforts that preserve and protect the Chicago area's architectural legacy," McDonough said in a written statement. "We are delighted that our gift will be an important first step toward the restoration and preservation of this international landmark."

Ian Morrison, president of the congregation's board of trustees, said the group is "immensely excited to move forward with the restoration of Unity Temple in collaboration with the Alphawood Foundation.

"For over 100 years we have made this wonderful building our spiritual home, gathering for worship, major life events, and community activities," he wrote in the release. "Wright designed the building for us and it embodies many of our values. We are proud to continue using it for its intended purposes."

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Sandra Kaufmann from Oak P ark  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 4:17 PM

This is absolutely wonderful news! It has needed a huge influx of funding to fully maintain and restore this treasure, and Oak Park has a lot to be thankful for.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 3:40 PM

Wonderful! Congratulations!

Harray Carray  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 6:11 PM

WOW! Holy Cow

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