Oak Park housewalk to showcase unique interiors

An inside look at history

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Simply put, it's an opportunity to take a glimpse into a few exceptional homes in Oak Park.

What is it? It's the Pleasant Home Foundation's annual housewalk, and this year it's called A Tour of Oak Park Historic Interiors.

Since its inception in 1990, the foundation has worked tirelessly to oversee the restoration and operation of the historic Pleasant Home in Oak Park's Mills Park. Designed in 1897 for investment banker John W. Farson by architect George W. Maher, the home is a National Historic Landmark as well as a local treasure. As a non-profit organization, the foundation is responsible for all the upkeep of the home and also serves an educational function: teaching locals and tourists about Prairie Style architecture.

Strolling in the neighborhood

This year's event features six unique Prairie School and Arts and Crafts Style homes with an easily walkable tour. All six of the homes are within blocks of each other on Oak Park's Euclid and Linden Avenues.

Laura Mercier Thompson, executive director, emphasizes that educating the public about the Prairie and Arts and Crafts Movements is a large part of the foundation's purpose, and this year's homes are particularly of interest to that goal.

"[The] interior of Pleasant Home is in the Arts and Crafts Style, so it's important for us to showcase both the Arts and Crafts and Prairie styles," she said. "People really enjoy seeing the homes on the walk and getting pointers for their own homes.

"Another important educational aspect to the walk is that it helps people understand that there's more to the Prairie School than Frank Lloyd Wright. Although he was an important part of that school, other architects, like George Maher and Tallmadge and Watson, played a significant role in the movement."

Among the six homes featured on the walk, the Oliver N. Caldwell House provides a striking example of the work of Maher. Five Maher homes remain in Oak Park, and the Caldwell House typifies his later interest in showcasing mass and clean lines.

Maher was also known for creating unity in a building by repeating one or two decorative motifs throughout a home. In the Caldwell House, he used a segmented arch motif in such details as the window grilles, some of the hardware and the copper plaque displaying the house numbers. Throughout the home, beautifully detailed art glass displays a natural theme of ferns and flowers.

Early Wright work

One of the older homes in Oak Park, the Charles E. Roberts House was designed in 1885 by architects Daniel Burnham and John Root. Roberts, the president of the Chicago Screw Company, commissioned the Queen Anne Style home on Euclid and later became a patron of an up-and-coming architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The interior of the home is a striking example of the young Wright's earlier woodwork.

Other distinctive homes on the walk include the Frank E. Long House, designed in 1924 by Leon Stanhope, and the Edward C. Kohlsaat residence. Located on Linden Avenue, the Long home's distinctive undulating roof makes it well-known throughout the neighborhood. The Kohlsaat residence, in the historic Fair Oaks section of Oak Park, is also an Arts and Crafts Style home with dark brown banding on the exterior and leaded casement windows. The current owners completed a major restoration, designed to celebrate many of its original features.

A walk into the past

Walking through these homes not only offers a glimpse into Oak Park's rich architectural history, but Thompson promises participants will learn a great deal about the village's past as well.

"We fully research every house that will be on the walk, and our research includes a lot of information about the original owners and original architectural details of the homes, as well as explanations of updates to the houses," she says. "These are wonderful examples of architecture, but they are also real homes. It is interesting to see how people have adapted them for modern living."

Tickets to the walk include a complimentary tour of Pleasant Home as well as a tour of Maher's Taylor House on Euclid Avenue.

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