Oak Park is famous for its Prairie-style homes and for being the incubator of the iconic Prairie School architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but there’s more to the style than single family homes and Wright designs. Wright was surrounded by other area architects, some of whom put their own spin on the Prairie aesthetic. 

John Van Bergen was a native Oak Park resident who worked as a draftsman in Wright’s Studio and designed many homes in Oak Park and River Forest. His Linden Apartments at the corner of Linden and Ontario in Oak Park interpreted the Prairie style for a large-scale apartment building. Currently condominiums, one of the units recently hit the real estate market and offers a glimpse into the Van Bergen style. 

John Van Bergen

Born in 1885 in Oak Park, his family moved to the 500 block of Fair Oaks Avenue shortly thereafter. From an early age, the address afforded him a connection to Wright. In 1897, Wright designed the Rollin Furbeck House across the street from the Van Bergen family, and four years later, Wright designed the William G. Fricke House down the block. In addition, Van Bergen’s mother, Ella, was friends with Wright’s mother and Van Bergen’s third-grade teacher was
Wright’s sister.

While at Oak Park and River Forest High School, Van Bergen began working on his drafting skills, drawing a map of the school for the district superintendent. He began his architectural career in 1907, working as an apprentice draftsman for Walter Burley Griffin, whose father was a friend of Van Bergen’s father. Van Bergen then pursued his architectural license by studying at Chicago Technical College while at the same time working for E.E. Roberts, another area architect closely associated with the
Prairie style.

In 1909, Van Bergen left school and joined Wright’s Studio. There he worked on the finishing touches of many Wright projects, including the Robie House in Hyde Park and the Mrs. Thomas Gale House in Oak Park. When Wright left his Studio in 1909, Van Bergen stayed behind with Isabel Roberts to close the facility. For a short time, he worked with another Wright employee, William Drummond, until Van Bergen received his architecture license and went off to work on his own in 1911.

Linden Apartments

According to an article on the building in Arts and Crafts Homes, the Linden Apartments are one of only two high-style Prairie apartment buildings in existence. The building was completed in 1916, and an early advertisement for the building touted the units’ similarities to bungalows. While offering the convenience of apartment living, the apartments included house-like amenities for the time, including open fireplaces, tiled bathrooms, large windows and porches.

The Linden Apartments were commissioned by Salem E. Munyer and built at a cost of $54,000. Rents for the one- to three-bedroom units originally ranged from $50 to $80 a month. After ownership changed hands several times, the building was converted to condominiums in 1976.

The unique arrangement of the building allows for three blocks of apartments all conjoined with an inset joint, allowing for six corner apartments rather than three. The exterior of the building features buff-colored brick, horizontal joints, and limestone banding. Quarry tile accents are placed below the eaves, and each of the three entrances feature art glass. On the interiors, Prairie-style touches such as open floor plans, built-in cabinets, horizontal banded trim, floating decks, sconce lighting and art glass help the building’s original era survive.

Unit 2E

Resident Doreen Capasso-Friedle has lived in the building for 14 years and thinks that the same selling features of the original apartments are what sold her on her one-bedroom unit. “I looked at somewhere between 30 and 50 places before buying here. I wanted a third-floor unit, two bedrooms and a garage, and this unit has none of those things, but when I walked in here, it felt like home. It just gave off a vibe.”

Capasso-Friedle points to Van Bergen’s open floor plan as a big feature of the home. “I think he was a little ahead of his time because he designed these units with an open concept, with light flowing from the front porch all the way to the rear windows in the dining room.”

Like most condominiums in the building, Capasso-Friedle’s contains many original elements, including horizontal banded woodwork and built-in cabinetry delineating the living room from the dining room. A kitchen designer owned the unit before she purchased it, and redesigned the kitchen with modern amenities that suit the Prairie style of the home. Capasso-Friedle says that’s part of the building’s charm. 

“Even though they’re all the same unit other than number of bedrooms, people have done different things with them. Some have doors between the living spaces and the front porches, which are now finished as all-season rooms. Some have slightly different touches, but all of them retain the Prairie feel.”

Capasso-Friedle was convinced she would live alone in her condo when she purchased it. “It was mine, and I wasn’t going to share it. Then I met Bill at Philander’s, and we decided to get married. When you think your life is one way, little surprises come along.”

Now Capasso and husband Bill Friedle share the space with dog Sophie. While the 1,000-square-foot unit is plenty of room for the three of them, they have decided to look for a slightly larger space with a private garage so that Bill, who owns Bill’s Automotive Inc. in Forest Park, can have a place to work on his cars at home. 

They listed the home for sale by owner in April for $199,900, and hope to find a buyer who will appreciate everything the building has to offer.

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