By Lacey Sikora
Before he left Oak Park under inauspicious circumstances in 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright built and remodeled many significant homes within walking distance of his own home and studio on Forest Avenue.
On his street alone, he designed the Nathan G. Moore House in 1895, the Frank Thomas House in 1902 and the Arthur Heurtley House in 1902. He remodeled the Peter A. Beachy House in 1906 and the Hills-Decaro House in 1906, as well.
It is no surprise, then, that after William H. Copeland purchased the house at 400 Forest Ave.in 1898, he called on the neighborhood architect to remodel the Italianate-style home in 1906.
With the Heurtley House next door and the Hills-Decaro and Moore houses across the street, Copeland had become familiar with Wright's work.
The home at 400 Forest Ave. was originally built for Nora and William Harman in approximately 1883. The one-acre plot was previously owned by a string of people, including the Kettlestrings family. The Harmans' home was a yellow brick Italianate with bracketed eaves, a hipped roof, articulated chimneys and a wide porch with turned baluster railings and Ionic columns.
Dr. William Copeland and his wife, Frances, moved to the Chicago area from Pittsburgh in 1892. They purchased the house from the Harmans in 1898 and raised two daughters, Frances and Harriet, in Oak Park.
Copeland ran an eye, ear, nose and throat clinic and retired at the age of 40. He then devoted himself to manufacturing and selling medicines and later dabbled in real estate.
Wright produced two remodeling schemes for the Copelands. The first scheme, dated 1908, included significant exterior changes, including cladding the brick in stucco, reducing the pitch of the roofline, altering chimneys and moving the entry from the center of the house to the north side at the ground level. On the interior, walls on the first floor were removed and exterior walls opened up with large glass areas.
A second scheme, dated 1909, was a more moderate makeover of the interior, removing a wall in the kitchen and pantry area. The entry to the home remained in the center of the home, and bay windows were removed. A sitting room fireplace was removed, and a Roman brick fireplace was added to the reception room.
Like the first scheme, in the second plan, the home's exterior would render the house completely unrecognizable from its Italianate roots. Plaster would cover the brick, the roof pitch would be lowered and the front porch was to be reworked to include a second-story veranda.
Change in plans
The building permit for the Copeland project is dated August 20, 1909. On Sept. 20, 1909, Wright left Oak Park abruptly, leaving behind his wife and children and delegating the management of his practice to Herman von Holst.
A contract between Copeland and von Holst was dated Sept. 22, 1909, and it appears von Holst or John Van Bergen from Wright's studio supervised the construction.
The Copelands chose not to implement either of Wright's schemes in its entirety. The brick exterior remained painted and uncovered, and the entry to the house remains at the center of the wide front porch.
The roofline was lowered and the Ionic columns were widened and changed to a simpler Doric style. One chimney was removed, and another was altered to be lower and broader.
On the interior, Wright's influence is immediately apparent, and much of the alterations hew to Wright's second scheme. The front door and surrounding side lights are paneled in geometric art glass designed by Wright. Three bands of mahogany trim set on the walls at a height of 7 feet visually lower the 11.5-foot ceilings, while connecting the first-floor rooms to one another.
In the dining room, art glass-paneled doors open to the veranda on either side, and a Wright-designed built-in sideboard with matching art glass panels anchors the room. Many of the Wright-designed light fixtures are still in use today, and a Roman brick fireplace flanked by built-in cabinetry graces the reception room.
The Copelands also hired Wright to remodel their garage. Its plans are dated Oct. 28, 1908, and it appears much of the garage was remodeled according to plan. The steep-pitched roof was lowered and eaves widened to shelter new diamond-patterned windows. The exterior was coated in plaster.
Today, the garage is mostly unaltered from that remodel. It includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and dining room above the parking areas.
The home today
Although the kitchen was renovated in the 1990s, the Copeland House today looks much as it did after the Copelands remodeled.
In the mudroom area, the original wooden ice box remains. A back staircase leads to the second floor, where Wright left intact many Italianate details, such as bullseye trim and transom windows. Four of the bedrooms are connected with pass-through bathrooms which still boast original marble sinks.
Realtor Greer Haseman of @properties is listing the six-bedroom house for $1,650,000 and remembers growing up down the street from the house.
"I grew up on Forest, and I think everyone who has lived here has a story about the house," Haseman said.
As a child, Haseman's friends included inhabitants of the house who were part of a family of 14 living there. She recalls that the porch was everyone's favorite hangout, and that friendships formed easily as children ran up and down the block between yards.
That sense of belonging and companionship on the block is something that dates back at least to the era when Wright's designs began to dominate the neighborhood.
In 1917, Frances Copeland married neighbor Walter Pratt Beachy, who was good friends with Wright's son John. The two started at toy business, Red Square Company, through which the pair developed Lincoln Logs.
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