In Oak Park and River Forest, we’re no strangers to the wealth of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture that surrounds us. There may be plenty of Wright buildings to explore close to home, but for those willing to travel just a short distance, there is even more Wright to discover. Starting Aug. 18, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is offering glimpses into Wright’s work throughout the Midwest and invites architecture buffs, Trust members and non-members alike, along for the ride.
Laura Dodd, director of Operations and Guest Experience for the Trust notes that the tours take advantage of the close proximity of many of Wright’s significant works.
“The Chicago region, and indeed Oak Park and River Forest,” she said, “has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the world. The larger region is full of smaller house museums and different points of interest. We thought our members would love to see those outside of Chicago.”
While the Trust has done day trips to neighboring communities as a part of their spring Wright Plus tours, this is the first year it is conducting Wright in the Region tours in the late summer and fall. Dodd calls the tours something of a pilot program.
“We were looking for organizations with which we already have a good relationship and that represent a variety of Wright’s styles,” she explained. “Each of the three tours focuses on a different design area. We designed it with the idea that people might want to go on multiple tours or all three.”
Wright on the river
The B. Harley Bradley House was designed by Wright in 1900 in Kankakee for Bradley and his wife Anna M. Bradley. Wright also designed the home next door for Anna’s brother, Warren R. Hickox. The home plays a significant part in Wright’s evolution, according to Dodd.
“It’s considered by many scholars to be the first Prairie-style house,” she said. A lot of Wright’s designs prior to 1900 show the Victorian influence, but this house has all the characteristics we’ve come to associate with the Prairie-style, including low, overhanging eaves, banded windows and horizontal lines.”
The Bradleys lived in the home for 13 years. Later owner Joseph Dodson, president of the American Audubon Society, turned the stables into a birdhouse factory, and subsequent owners turned the home into a restaurant and inn. The property fell into disrepair for several decades but recently has been restored.
Dodd noted that the Kankakee tour includes some added bonuses.
“The house is situated on a lovely piece of the [Kankakee] river,” she said. “The tour includes a scenic boat tour so the participants can view the home from the water — a completely different vantage point.”
The tour also included a walk through the neighborhood, allowing participants to put the home in the context of the 1900s-era homes that surround it.
The first of the Wright in the Region tours, the Bradley House tour (alas) took place on Aug. 18.
Wright’s accessible Usonian
On Sept. 22, the tour travels to Rockford to visit the fully restored Laurent House. Commissioned in 1952 for Phyllis and Kenneth Laurent, it is the only home Wright designed to be handicap accessible. Laurent utilized a wheelchair after surgery during World War II left him paralyzed.
The single-story home was constructed of Chicago Common Brick and Red Tidewater Cypress, and much of the materials and labor were sourced from Rockford. Well before the American with Disabilities Act, Wright created a home that fit his ideals and the needs of his clients.
“On the 25th anniversary of the ADA,” Dodd pointed out, “it is amazing to think that Wright designed this home to work for someone in a wheelchair so he could feel as if he were able. I think that’s the fascinating thing about Frank Lloyd Wright. He really did design for the clients.”
In addition to the Laurent House, the tour includes a visit to a cemetery in nearby Belvidere to view Wright’s William Pettit Chapel. One of only two structures that Wright designed for a cemetery, the Prairie-style chapel was commissioned in 1907 by Pettit’s widow, Emma, who met Wright through her brother, for whom Wright had designed a home in Glencoe.
Wright in the modern workplace
The third tour takes place on Oct. 20, and travels to Racine, Wisconsin to tour the landmark S.C. Johnson Administration Building (Johnson Wax), as well as the newly opened Research Tower and an exhibit featuring Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio.
The iconic campus in Racine is still in use as a workplace today and provides a glimpse into the past and the present use of Wright’s designs. Dodd noted that the Research Tower includes two floors that look just as they did when they opened in 1944, complete with scientific beakers and furnishings.
“That part of the tour is museum-like. The rest of the building is still used by workers as it was when it opened in the 1930s. It’s very interesting to see how the family company has integrated Frank Lloyd Wright design into their workplace environment.”
All three of these trips sold out in advance. The Wright Trust is planning additional trips to Rockford and Kankakee in November and December.