New to the Wright Plus Housewalk this year is a home that represents Oak Park’s history in more ways than one.
The William H. Yorke House on Kenilworth Avenue was designed by architect William J. Van Kueren in 1893 for Mary Kettlestrings, the daughter of Joseph and Betty Kettlestrings, founders of the village of Oak Park.
Joseph Kettlestrings bought the property in 1835, and gave this parcel to his daughter in 1873 when she married William Yorke. Originally comprising four lots, the property first housed a modest, wood frame farmhouse. In 1891, the Yorkes hired Van Kueren to build their home. The original farmhouse was demolished to make way for the Queen Anne Style home that was completed in 1893.
Van Kueren was a noted Oak Park architect who moved to the village in 1884. His other significant area works included the Cicero firehouse, which is slated to be the new headquarters for the Oak Park and River Forest Historical Society, and the Ingalls Row Houses on Forest Avenue. The Yorkes’ Queen Anne Style home typified a common architectural style of the time that contrasts greatly with the homes that Frank Lloyd Wright built just a few years later.
Preservation architect Douglas Gilbert, who researched the home’s history for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, made several interesting discoveries on the home.
“It was originally believed that the home was a simple remodel project for Van Kueren, but we now know the farmhouse was demolished to make way for an almost entirely new house,” he said. “In the basement of the home, I could study the original stone walls and foundation, and I believe Van Kueren used and added to the original foundation, but built an entirely new house. My findings were very conclusive, and it was very interesting to determine the origins of the house.”
At one point in the home’s history it was converted into a two-flat and remained that way until the 1980s. According to Gilbert, the home was well-maintained, but some of its original features were lost in the renovation.
“The current owners bought the home a few years ago and have been de-converting it back to a single-family home,” he noted. “There was not much of the original interior remaining other than the very ornate staircase, and they have done a wonderful job of restoring the grand Victorian character of the home.”
During their restoration, the current owners restored the exterior to what it would have looked like originally and added a more contemporary kitchen and porches, increasing the size of the home by almost a third. According to Gilbert, the additions to the rear of the home were done with a great deal of respect for its history.
“The Victorian character of the home really shines through now, but the home also more easily accommodates modern living.”
The Preservation Trust’s Michele Donley is excited to have this house on the Wright Plus tour for the first time. “This house had never had its history researched before, so it was very interesting to learn not only about Oak Park’s founding family, but also about the many architectural changes that this house went through.”
One of the house captains that will be on hand during the tour on May 21st has a personal connection to the Yorke home. John Enderle is a grandchild of the owners of the house from roughly World War II into the 1980s. His memories of childhood time spent in the home will offer visitors a unique insight into the history of one Oak Park’s historical treasures.