Landmarks Illinois understands, and even commends, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s goal of creating a new visitor center that would allow more people to learn about America’s most noted architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, at Wright’s Home & Studio in Oak Park.
However, we cannot support such an effort if it means removing and altering historically significant properties. The two structures that would be negatively impacted if village officials allow the Trust’s current plan to proceed, 925 & 931 Chicago Ave., are contributing properties within the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, and demolition of contributing properties to a historic district cannot be permitted unless a property threatens life or safety or in the case of demonstrated economic hardship. Later additions of a historic property, which are in themselves also historic, should not be removed under the same criteria. Neither of these exceptions apply to the Trust’s proposal for the two properties.
Landmarks Illinois disagrees with Wednesday Journal’s recent editorial, “Investing in Wright,” which states demolition of 925 Chicago Ave. would clearly be a “one-off” situation where a contributing structure is torn down. Allowing a “one-off” is a slippery slope, considering the village rightfully denied demolition requests for other contributing properties to historic districts within the last two years.
Allowing the Trust to demolish 925 Chicago Ave. would set a very bad precedent and put the protections assured by the Historic Preservation Ordinance at risk. As stated by Historic Preservation Commissioner David Sokol at the commission’s meeting on July 11, allowing the Trust this right after denying other owners the right sends a message that the rich and powerful can get their way.
Oak Park should continue to “invest in Wright” by not allowing the neighboring residences that were built prior to his Home & Studio to be demolished and altered, as they provide the historic fabric of the community that Wright decided to call home.