Wright 'masterpiece' tests the market

?Heurtley House could set an Oak Park house sale record

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By KEN TRAINOR

One of Frank Lloyd Wright's generally recognized residential masterpieces just went on the market. If you have $5.75 million, you can live in the Arthur Heurtley House, 318 Forest Ave.

"That's a record for Oak Park," said Andrew Hayes, head of public relations for Baird & Warner, which is listing the property. Hayes is coordinating publicity from the realty firm's downtown headquarters, and expects considerable interest. A full-page ad with five color photos of the exterior and interior (courtesy of the Wright Preservation Trust) appeared in Monday's Crain's Chicago Business. (The same ad is in today's Journal.) Hayes said the previous record sale for a house in Oak Park was just over $2 million.

When it was last purchased in June 1997 by present owners Ed and Diana Baehrend it needed a lot of work. It also sold for less than a half million dollars.

Ed Baehrend said that, including the original purchase price, painstaking renovation and period furnishings, they have invested just over $3 million in the house.

The Heurtley House was named a National Historic Landmark in 2000. Renovation (documented in detail on film by Ed's brother) was completed in time for the house's centennial in 2002. It has been featured on the Wright Plus walk twice while the Baehrends have owned it. They've also opened it on numerous occasions for charity fundraisers. Actor Matt Damon even stopped by once to film a scene from Ocean's 12 (though most of it ended up on the cutting room floor).

So why, after eight years of ownership are the Baehrends selling this Prairie masterpiece? Well, they plan to go sailing. Ed, 44, said when they sat down and did their 3- to 5-year plan, they realized they wouldn't be able to answer the call of the ocean forever. They also have a 5-year-old who will anchor them in school in the future. The plan is to live in a 55-foot seaworthy trawler in the South Pacific for two years, have the boat transported to the Mediterranean for another year of sailing, then come back to Oak Park where they hope to buy a smaller house and settle back in. Ed runs a money management business (he has an office in the coach house in back), which will be run by his partner in the interim, though he notes he'll still be involved via Internet and satellite phone.

Coincidentally, the original owner, Arthur Heurtley, a banker, was a lover of sailing, so Wright built the home with a ship in mind, including the famous pointed "prow" just outside the main entrance.

The Baehrends ultimately decided to sell because, Ed said, "this isn't the kind of house you can leave for two or three years."

He and his wife love Oak Park as well as the Prairie School of Architecture and could well return to both. They would have no qualms about buying another Wright home in the future, he observed, or one by any of the other notable Prairie architects.

Oddly enough, it was a "fluke" that brought them here in the first place. They were looking in Riverside and happened to see this house in an MLS listing. He remembered it from a book he read by Brendan Gill, so they agreed to take a free tour. They fell in love right away.

The home, he said, is one of a kind. "This is a piece of art you can actually live in. There's nothing quite like it. A livable work of art in this condition never has come on the market and never will again." The Heurtley House, he said, is considered one of Wright's four prairie masterpieces, and no one has ever restored one of his homes to this level of detail.

According to the Crain's ad, the renovation included "a complete retrofit of all the home's mechanical systems to make it fully functional for today's lifestyles." The ad calls it "the finest restored Wright Prairie-style residence in existence today" and describes it as "ideal for executive entertaining."

One web site refers to the finished product as "museum grade."

There's no telling, however, how long it will take to sell. If it happens quickly, Ed has made arrangements with a friend, Greenplan Management's Bill Planek, to locate an apartment during the interim. Or it could take awhile. "Marketing is the key," Ed said. A virtual tour will soon be available on the Internet, and he said they're working on digitizing and downloading portions of his brother's documentary.

However long it takes, Ed said they have loved living in the house. "The spaces are ideal for today's living," he said.

CONTACT: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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