What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? If you live in Oak Park and River Forest and enjoy all these villages have to offer, you are likely thankful for the historic preservation movement, which didn’t happen overnight. For an overview, see WJ Homes, page 59. But here’s the chronology:
1946 – Clyde and Charlotte Nooker purchase Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio complex at Chicago and Forest avenues with the intention of restoring it.
1949 – The National Trust for Historic Preservation is created.
1950 – Noted African-American chemist Dr. Percy Julian moves with his family to Oak Park. Their house is fire-bombed twice, but the family stayed. Decades later one of Oak Park’s two new middle schools is renamed for him.
1952 – To assure local control Oak Parkers vote in favor of a village manager form of government to counter Republican machine politics with a non-partisan board of trustees and a professional village manager. The Village Manager Association won the trustee election in 1953.
1955 – Oak Park directly experiences a major aspect of urbanization when the federally-financed Eisenhower Expressway begins cutting through the village. It is completed in 1960.
1956 – As an urbanization project, Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology is built on the site of the apartment building where Gwendolyn Brooks lived and wrote her early poetry. She became the first African-American poet laureate of Illinois, and one of Oak Park’s new middle schools is named for her.
1957 – Chicago continues to experience the negative effects of increased urbanization. Redlining and block-busting, often under the guise of “urban renewal,” along with rapidly increasing real estate values, leads to the destruction of neighborhoods and historic buildings. Likewise, in Oak Park a number of private homes and significant buildings are eventually demolished.
1960 – The National Park Service starts its National Historic Landmark program.
1964 – A week-long “Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park” tour program is sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The only Wright building accessible to the public is Unity Temple. Under the leadership of its minister, Rev. Robert Rice, volunteers give tours of the Temple. A map of Wright sites in Oak Park and River Forest is supplied at a cost of $1.
1965 – Clyde and Charlotte Nooker open portions of their Wright property for tours.
1966 – The National Park Service establishes its National Register of Historic Places program.
In Chicago, a group of architects bands together to preserve Glessner House. Jeanette Fields, a professional publicist, begins working there and ultimately becomes its director. By 1970 the group founds the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Jeanette creates a training program for docents for Glessner House and the Loop. Her first docent is newly-graduated architect John Thorpe.
A Guide to the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois is prepared by Barbara Ballinger, director of the Oak Park Public Library, and published by Prairie School Press.
1968 – The Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest is formed via the efforts of the Oak Park Beautification Committee, chaired by Elsie Jacobsen and its history committee chair Sandra Nye, in response to the 150th anniversary of Illinois’ statehood. Other founders include Warren Stevens, Walter Kester and Redd Griffin, and the group soon requests space on the second floor of Pleasant Home from the Park District of Oak Park. In 1970, a “museum room” opens and the group still leases the entire second and third floors today as it prepares to renovate and move to the Oak Park Landmark former firehouse at 129 Lake St. in 2015.
In 1970 the Park District of Oak Park offered the Historical Society space in the George Maher-designed Pleasant Home (John Farson House). The park district purchased the property in 1939 from the Herbert Mills family (second owners).
1969 – The activist board of the village of Oak Park, having established Oak Park’s landmark Fair Housing Ordinance in 1968, realizes the need for a strategic plan that includes preservation of the village’s housing stock. They hire city planner Irwin Rohrbach to prepare a comprehensive plan. Rohrbach, recognizing Oak Park’s rich architectural heritage, asks Chicago architects Wilbert Hasbrouck and Paul Sprague (among the founders of the Chicago Architecture Foundation) to survey and identify the village’s significant buildings. They find over 300 such sites, noting that Oak Park has more historic structures per capita than any other community in the nation. They urge the creation of a historic district. Rohrbach tells villagers to, “Look to your roots to create your future.”
The national convention of the American Institute of Architects is held in Chicago, so a large number of Oak Parkers (individuals, groups, and the Chamber of Commerce) sponsor a month-long “Frank Lloyd Wright Festival.” The range of events includes a day-long tour opportunity for people to enter more than just Unity Temple. For the first time, visitors could enter three of privately-owned Wright homes. (All of the Wright homes in Oak Park and River Forest are privately owned.) The tour is planned by Helena Gervais, representing the Friends of the Library, at a cost of $2.50 per person, with 1,800 people attending. Awards are given to Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Nooker for their restoration work on the Wright Studio and to Rev. Robert Rice of Unity Temple for welcoming walk-in visitors at the Temple. The press notes the potential of tourism as an industry in Oak Park.
1970 – The Oak Park Conservatory, East Avenue and Garfield Street, built by the Park District of Oak Park in 1929, is rescued from demolition by the Save the Garfield Conservatory Committee, led by Elsie Jacobsen.
Jeanette Fields moves from Hyde Park to Wright’s Davenport House in River Forest.
Unity Temple experiences serious structural issues. Dedicated members of the congregation and others begin efforts to preserve and restore it. Unity Temple becomes Oak Park’s first national historic landmark.
1972 – The village of Oak Park, with John Gearen as president, approves its first Historic Preservation Ordinance, which leads to the creation of a Landmarks Commission chaired by Bob Bell. The Oak Park Historic District, the village’s first, is based on recommendations from the 1970 architectural survey.
The Oak Park Housing Center is established by Bobbie Raymond to facilitate the integration of rental housing throughout the entire village and to support integration in the wider housing stock. She and architect Tom Sturr prepare “Live in Oak Park,” the first promotional booklet urging people to live in an integrated community.
John Thorpe, while a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, starts CAF’s walking and bicycle tours of Oak Park and River Forest. Those tours continue through 1974.
Mrs. Nooker, owner of the Wright Home & Studio complex, decides to sell the property. With the looming threat of the structure being demolished or even dismantled and sold off, the Committee to Purchase the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio is formed.
1973 – The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation is incorporated with Marion Herzog as chair. As the librarian at the Art Institute’s Burnham Library, she assists Grant Manson with his definitive research on Wright’s work in Oak Park prior to 1910.
The Oak Park Historic District is renamed the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture National Historic District when it is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1974 – The Oak Park Public Library, under the direction of Barbara Ballinger, publishes Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School of Architecture: A Selection of Materials in the Oak Park Library.
Wright’s Home & Studio complex, after two years of negotiations led by Art Replogle of the Oak Park Development Corporation, is purchased by a consortium of local banks to take it off the market and put it under the ownership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Of great assistance in the process is Village President Jim McClure. On June 17, 1974, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio Foundation is incorporated, under the leadership of Dawn Goshorn.
The Home & Studio first opened for tours on July 17, 1974, with Ann Marohn as the first guide. The earliest volunteers heard talks by Don Kalec from the Art Institute faculty and architect Rick Twiss from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Visiting at the time, Lloyd Wright told the trainees, “You are to interpret the grammar of the building.” Since then, the volunteers at the area’s Wright sites are called interpreters, not docents. A formal volunteer training program is set up and tours publicized and coordinated by the new Oak Park Tour Center.
By 1974, Oak Park has one national historic landmark and a restoration foundation to support it, one national/local historic district, and six National Register sites. River Forest has two National Register sites. There have been two Wright festivals that included public tours. Hundreds of citizen volunteers made these events possible. The purchase of the Home & Studio sets the stage for the next chapter of architectural preservation and the beginning of our local tourism industry.
Jeanette Fields receives a Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects for her work as executive director of the Chicago (School of) Architecture Foundation.
1975 – Cheney Mansion is deeded to the Park District of Oak Park.
Oak Park’s new village hall, designed by the firm Harry Weese & Associates, opens at 123 Madison St. The location in east Oak Park is chosen as a statement that no area in the village will be treated differently from any other.
The Home & Studio holds its first local house tour, Ten by Wright, coordinated by Elsie Jacobsen and modeled on the festival tour of 1969. The annual tours later become known as Wright Plus with other architects and styles included.
The Home & Studio’s Oak Park Tour Center manages tours of the Home & Studio itself and creates bus and walking tours. The Tour Center promotes tourism’s economic benefits to the village. Cathy Barker, who starts as a volunteer in 1975, becomes the director in 1976.
1976 – Paul Sprague’s Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School Architecture is published by the village of Oak Park, with the support of its Bicentennial Commission and Landmarks Commission.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio becomes Oak Park’s second National Historic Landmark.
The local League of Women Voters of Oak Park/River Forest, with Edith Slayton as president, successfully applies to the National Municipal League, which names Oak Park an “All-American City.” Three community organizations are identified for their leadership roles: the Oak Park Village Mall (Sara Bode, marketing services director) for economic development; the Oak Park Housing Center (Bobbie Raymond, director) for fair housing, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio Foundation (Dawn Goshorn, president) for historic preservation.
1977 to ’87 – The restoration of the Home & Studio is completed at a cost of $3 million. The meticulous planning takes place between 1974 and 1977. Most of the hands-on work is done by devoted volunteers.
The River Forest Historic District is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1981 – The Oak Park Tour Center opens its first off-site facility, the Visitors Center, in the Forest Avenue parking garage at Forest and Lake (The structure was razed in 2014).
The Architectural Guidebook Committee of the River Forest Community Center publishes A Guidebook to the Architecture of River Forest, edited by Jeanette Fields.
1983 – The Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park is incorporated on June 28, with Jerome (Jerry) Fallon as the registered agent. Original directors were Dwight Austin, Morris Buske, Jeanette Fields, Redd Griffin and Roy Hlavacek.
1987 – After 10 years of work, the Home & Studio restoration is completed. The Home & Studio Foundation’s Restoration Committee, led by John Thorpe, Bill Dring, Don Kalec, and Carl Hunter, receive two major awards: the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) National Honor Award and the AIA Chicago Chapter’s Honor Award.
1989 – To protect the remaining 335 (of 435) Wright buildings located across the nation, a preservationist group is founded as the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. Among its original board members are Jeanette Fields, Don Kalec, Sandra Wilcoxon, and Tim Sandvos. The Conservancy’s first executive director, Carla Lind, is the former executive director of the Home & Studio.
1990 – The Pleasant Home Foundation is incorporated under the leadership of Catherine Deam.
1992 – The Ernest Hemingway Foundation, under the guidance of board Chair Scott Schwar, purchases the Hemingway Birthplace Home, 339 N. Oak Park Ave. Providing his services pro bono, restoration architect John Thorpe leads a team of professional craftsmen and myriad volunteers in the $1 million restoration. The house museum opens in 1993 and is completed in 2001.
John Thorpe receives the Richard D. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award from Landmarks Illinois as a Distinguished Illinois Preservationist.
1993 – The village of Oak Park creates the Oak Park Visitors Bureau, which assumes the responsibilities of the Visitors Center facility located in the Forest Avenue garage.
The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission publishes Ridgeland Revealed: Guide to the Architecture of the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District, edited by Arlene Sanderson.
1994 – Jeanette Fields, former executive director of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, receives Landmarks Illinois’ Richard D. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award as a Distinguished Illinois Preservationist.
The village board approves a new historic preservation ordinance, which allows the Historic Preservation Commission to begin designating local historic landmarks. The ordinance designates the Ridgeland/Oak Park Historic District (Oak Park’s second local historic district). The board also adopts the Historic Preservation Commission’s newly created Architectural Review Guidelines and Long Range Historic Preservation Plan.
1996 – George W. Maher’s Pleasant Home (John Farson House) becomes Oak Park’s third national historic landmark.
1997 – Because of its success restoring and showcasing the Home & Studio, the Home & Studio Foundation is asked by the University of Chicago, which owns Robie House, to take on that building’s management, operations, and restoration.
2000 – Wright’s Heurtley House on Forest Avenue becomes Oak Park’s fourth national historic landmark.
Twenty-five years after its founding, the expanded Home & Studio Foundation changes its name to the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.
The Oak Park Visitors Bureau becomes the Oak Park Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.
The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission creates a new Guide to Oak Park’s Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School Historic District, edited by Molly Wickes.
2001 – The Ernest Hemingway Foundation purchases the Hemingway Boyhood Home, 600 N. Kenilworth Ave., following the death of longtime owner Eileen Burns.
The Preservation Trust publishes Building a Legacy: The Restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Home and Studio, edited by Zarine Weil.
2002 – The Gunderson Historic District (north of the Eisenhower) and Scoville Park in Oak Park are added to the National Register of Historic Places.
2003 – The Gunderson Historic District (south of the Eisenhower) is created by the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission but not listed on the National Register.
2008 – The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (with John Thorpe on its board) nominates about a dozen Wright buildings across the country to become UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The two sites in the Chicago area are the Robie House and Unity Temple.
2009 – The Oak Park Area Convention and Tourism Bureau becomes simply Visit Oak Park and moves its office and the Visitors Center to its present location at 1010 Lake St.
The boundaries of the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District are expanded.
2010 – The village board adopts the Historic Preservation Commission’s new Strategic Historic Preservation Plan to replace the previous long-range plan.
The Preservation Trust acquires office space and tour opportunities in the Loop at Wright’s Rookery lobby, its third site.
Peace Triumphant, aka the Scoville Park War Memorial, after a year’s rehab, is rededicated.
2011 – The village of Oak Park creates Historic Resources of Oak Park, an on-line, interactive, Google-map-based inventory of its designated and identified historic properties, which can be found at the following link: www.oak-park.us/village-services/planning/historic-preservation/historic-resources.
2012 – The Preservation Trust agrees to manage the tours at Wright’s Emil Bach House, its fourth Wright site. Also the Trust purchases the Home & Studio from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Hemingway Foundation sells the Boyhood Home to buyers who plan to restore the house to its original single-family home status.
2013 – Through an arrangement with the Unity Temple congregation and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, the Preservation Trust takes responsibility for the tour program at Unity Temple, bringing to five the number of sites it serves. Unity Temple restoration efforts get a boost with funding from the Alphawood Foundation.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust becomes simply the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
2014 – The Wright Trust establishes its Legacy Year calendar of events to honor the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Home & Studio Foundation and the 125th anniversary of the building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home. During the start-up years of the Wright Trust from 1972 through 1977, about 200 individuals and organizations from Oak Park, Chicago-area, and nationwide were directly involved. The final list of Founders, honored by the Trust on June 17, includes 112 people. Of those, 73 are living and 50 attend.
Oak Park Village Hall, built in 1975, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bob Trezevant, a retired District 97 instructor, 37-year resident of Oak Park, and member of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, thanks Frank Lipo, Frank Heitzman, Doug Kaare, John Thorpe and the late Jeanette Fields for their assistance in putting this chronology together.