Ann Marohn gave the very first tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio on Saturday, July 17, 1974. And she'll be giving the first special tour at 5 p.m. on July 17 to kickoff the Wright Trust's 40th Anniversary Open House. There will be free tours that evening as well as on July 18 and 19 as the Trust celebrates not only their 40 years of preservation efforts but also the 125th anniversary of the house the architect designed as his "honeymoon home" in 1889.
"It's really hard to believe it's been 40 years since all this started," said Oak Park resident Marohn, a retired Whittier School English teacher. "It's such a thrill and a great honor to be giving this special tour. Of course, I've stayed with this all these years and still have so much fun doing my Sunday tours once a month. You know how it is. I was a ham — any good teacher is. So I took to it right away."
Looking back, she noted, "we had no training. There were no classes like there is now. I attended a couple of lectures: one was on architecture in general and the other was specifically on the Prairie School. And in those days the house was completely different. It had been altered a lot in 1911 when Wright went away and then again in 1925 when he was bankrupt and finally sold the property. The place was split up into small apartments and everything looked very different. The building had been really adapted. There was a carriage entrance on the side and a screened-in porch, for instance. Once the work began to put the Home & Studio back to the way it had been when Wright was living and working there, the date for all restoration work [was] 1909. That's the last year Frank Lloyd Wright and his family were all together there. So many things had to be removed that were added or altered after 1909 and lots of other stuff had to be recreated. It was an enormous undertaking."
She is amazed thinking back to those early tours in 1974. "Four of the Wright children were still alive then," Marohn said. "They were elderly people by that point, but we were so thrilled and surprised to see how they embraced the restoration. Lloyd, the oldest who had become an architect like his father, perched in the inglenook — the recess by the fireplace — and chatted with us as we sat on the hideous green shag carpeting before him. 'You will interpret the building,' Lloyd Wright told us. And so the term 'interpreter' was born. All of the docents at the Home & Studio are still referred to as 'interpreters.'"
At first the tours were sporadic, she recalled. "People initially came in dribs and drabs. I honestly don't recall what the admission price was. But our body of knowledge expanded and the organization grew rapidly once it all got off the ground. It's been an amazing thing to witness over the decades."
Marohn marvels at the effect the Wright Home & Studio has had on the village. "It was a very positive factor in helping to solidify the image of Oak Park as a strong community at a time that was still somewhat precarious," she said. "Around the early 1970s, there were predictions of doom as the adjacent Austin neighborhood was undergoing its rapid changes. But the development and restoration of the Home & Studio signified Oak Park's commitment and dedication to positive change. It gave people faith and hope. We clearly had a new strong identity that was rich in culture and history. Tourists flocked in to experience it.
"I really loved giving my tours over these many years," Marohn added. "It's always exciting and fun. You meet great people from all over. I still get amazing questions. I vary my tours as much as I can to keep myself fresh and excited. I don't think it will ever become dull."
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust invites the community to join Ann Marohn and other interpreters as they offer free tours of the Wright Home & Studio on July 17, 18, and 19 from 5 to 8 pm. Refreshments will be served.
Doug Deuchler is a longtime educator and historian who, when he isn't reviewing local theater for Wednesday Journal, is a stand-up comic, tour guide/docent, film class instructor and author of several books about Oak Park and surrounding communities.