Goodrich House's past is as fascinating as its future

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Wright Plus rolls out its covered carpets on Saturday, May 18, as the 39th annual premier Chicago-area housewalk highlights the architectural wonders of Oak Park. Architecture aficionados and design buffs from around the world — or just down the street — will line up to for in-depth tours of nine private homes, three of them Frank Lloyd Wright designs, with six others designed by his contemporaries.

One of Wright's designs, the Louisa and Harry Goodrich House, stands apart for its thoughtful restoration of a Wright home. Angela Whitaker, Wright Plus coordinator at the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, notes that the home is billed as a work in progress due to the ongoing restoration efforts of owners Mary Ludgin and Mark Donovan, making the Goodrich House a shining example of the passion it takes to be a good steward of a Wright creation.

"The owners have been very thoughtful," says Whitaker, "and go back to Wright's intent in their recent renovations of the home. They are also being as green as possible, putting in things you'd never know were there because it looks as it did when Wright designed it."

The current owners have discovered a passion for preserving and restoring their home, and as part of those efforts, they have relished learning more about the original owners' colorful life.

Who were Louisa and Harry Goodrich?

Pat Cannon, a volunteer with the Preservation Trust for 36 years, and a researcher for Wright Plus for the past several years, coordinated the research on the home. According to Cannon, details of the original owners' lives are as interesting as the current owners' restoration efforts.

"The material on the original owner is pretty fascinating," Cannon said. He was an inventor, one of those 19th-century men who made and lost fortunes."

Donovan concurs noting that the Internet has been extremely helpful in his efforts to learn more about Harry Goodrich.

"It's an evolving story," Donovan said. "The Internet holds an amazing number of links to Goodrich. He was a much better inventor than he was a businessman."

Harry and Louisa Goodrich were born in New York state. An 1880 census shows the two living in Massachusetts with their seven children and states that Harry was in the shoe sole business. According to various newspaper accounts, he was an inventor who often ran into money trouble.

A 1906 Oak Leaves article credits him with over 100 patents, including the tuck marker on sewing machines, for which he earned $400,000 plus over five years. He is also credited with inventing a gas lighter, several bicycle designs and a felt border for school slates, but financial security did not follow. He was sued several times and is described in the same Oak Leaves story as in "straitened circumstances" due to financial reverses.

Donovan says that his research shows Goodrich's wealth peaked in the 1870s or 1880s.

"At that time, he was worth a couple of million dollars, quite a bit of money in those days. By the late teens, he was in his 80s, and working for $4 a day in a manufacturing plant on the North Side of Chicago."

Recent renovations

Ludgin and Donovan purchased the home in 1999 and began an extensive restoration. Ludgin has volunteered as a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation for 20 years, and Donovan's interest in architecture dates back to his Ph.D. research years ago, but while they admit to being architecture buffs, the two did not originally set out to buy a Wright home.

"I didn't want to go to open houses when we were looking for a home, so I let Mary go alone," Donovan recalls. "I had four conditions: the home had to be brick, it couldn't be on a corner, it couldn't be by a name architect, and it had to have a fireplace. I ended up getting two of the four, which isn't bad in any marriage."

When they purchased the home, the couple knew they needed to tackle the outdated kitchen. Notes Ludgin, "The kitchen had last been remodeled in 1963. It was horrible and difficult to work in." It was probably the height of style in the '60s, they say, with a stove that included burners recessed in drawers. Their preservationist bent, however, isn't limited to Frank Lloyd Wright. They held onto the stove, hoping some like-minded preservationist of a mid-century modern home might be interested in the period piece.

For the new kitchen, they researched varieties of wood that would have been available during Wright's time, and chose birch wood for the floors and cabinets. They also chose period-appropriate soapstone for the counters and sought to conceal modern appliances when they could.

After the kitchen project, the couple had to undertake significant structural repairs to the home's supporting beams and foundational plates. They also updated the home's mechanical systems, becoming the first Wright homeowners to install a geothermal heating, cooling and hot water system. They installed radiant heating under the floors as part of an ongoing effort to make the 1896 structure as efficient as a new home. As part of these efforts, they also insulated the walls and ceilings and replaced and repaired windows.

The past few years they have enlisted the help of architect John Eifler to aid in the process of restoring the home's exterior. Eifler recently renovated his own Wright house in Glencoe so he has experience with Wright restoration. With the help of general contractor Bosi Construction, the house is beginning to take on its former look.

As they wait for Eifler to provide a final drawing that includes the original paint palette, which he discovered during his work, Donovan is hopeful that the exterior work is nearing the end.

"We have new roof at the front and over the back porch," he said. "We're putting in a new super-structure so that the eaves won't sag. We hope to restore the stucco and wood by the end of the year and restore the original exterior colors."

A restoration that has spanned 13 years, Donovan admits, is "a labor of craziness," but Ludgin says it's all been worthwhile.

"The pleasure of sitting in the finished spaces is immense. Watching the house come back to what Wright meant it to be is a joy."

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