The Dr. Charles E. Cessna House on Oak Park Avenue is new to Wright Plus this year, and the E.E. Roberts-designed home combines architectural grandeur with a fascinating personal history. Proving that great wealth does not always go hand in hand with great moral rectitude, the first owner of the home had a colorful past.
Don Gunning, who researched the home for the Wright Preservation Trust, found out quite a bit about the good doctor. “I learned a lot about him, but the more I learned, the more bad things I discovered,” Gunning said. “He only practiced medicine for about 10 years, and then he began making loans at very high rates of interest. Several Tribune stories about him refer to him as a loan shark, and he was sued multiple times.”
Cessna began a mail-order patent medicine business, advertising in magazines and newspapers, but the government eventually shut this business down, accusing him of mail fraud. He was also involved in a questionable real estate scheme, selling farm land in the Florida panhandle that turned out to be swamp.
In spite of his multiple failed business enterprises, Cessna was financially successful. Gunning says he was a millionaire at the turn of the century. “He made millions, which back in 1905 really meant something. That’s why the house is so extravagant and has so many beautiful details.”
All of the woodwork in the home is in original, unpainted condition, and the home is filled with incredible art-glass scenes. The soaring wood staircase is lit by a many-paneled stained glass scene of a flowering tree. Another multi-paned window depicts a pastoral scene of vibrantly colored rolling hills, trees and sky.
Wright Plus coordinator Angela Whitaker says the home is stunning. “The Preservation bills this as one of Roberts’ finest examples. None of the woodwork has ever been painted. It’s in amazing condition and is just a showstopper.”
Cessna lived in the home until his death in 1929, and his wife lived there until her death in 1951. Since that time, only two other families have lived in the home, contributing to its pristine condition. The current owners, the Sullivan family, have lived here for 54 years and have taken extreme measures over the past several months to bring the house back to its original glory in time for Wright Plus.