Long before the weekend of Wright Plus opens up historic homes in Oak Park and River Forest to hundreds of visitors, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust volunteers put a lot of thought and effort into choosing homes for the walk. In fact, the selection process begins for the next year as soon as Wright Plus wraps up.
Typically, when Wright Plus is held in May, the Wright Plus House Selection Committee begins meeting in June.
Frank Pond has been on the committee for more than 25 years and chairs the committee this year. He says that while the committee always tries to look at the walk with fresh eyes, there is a bit of general framework they follow.
“We look for three Frank Lloyd Wright homes, which are complemented by the Home and Studio and Unity Temple,” Pond said. “Then we look for other complementary homes.”
Those complementary homes are the “plus” of Wright Plus, and Pond says they might follow a particular theme architecturally or stylistically. Some years the homes might have a distinctive Prairie Style bent, and other years might feature some from the Victorian era.
“There are a limited number of Wright houses, and you can’t build any more,” Pond said. “That’s why the ‘plus’ houses are so important.”
Vicki Kwarciany, co-chair of this year’s walk, and a long-term Frank Lloyd Wright Trust volunteer, says that other architects are definitely a big draw for the walk.
“There’s so much fantastic architecture in the area, we don’t want to limit ourselves,” Kwarciany said. “There are so many important architects, like William Drummond and Purcell & Elmslie. They not only did unique things in their own right, but they also offer their own interpretation of the Prairie Style.”
No matter the unifying theme of the walk, Pond says the selection committee also considers the geographic layout of the walk.
“All Wright homes are north of the [Lake Street] el tracks, except one,” Pond said. “We try to have a link between the Home and Studio and Unity Temple and other homes.”
Co-volunteer Susan Frost says that one approach to planning a walk is to start with the neighborhood and build the walk around that.
“That can make it more convenient for our guests and easier logistically,” Frost said.
However, the committee is not afraid to visit other suburbs. In the past, the walk has featured a sprawling John Van Bergen house in Maywood. Another year, visitors travelled to Riverside to see parts of the Avery Coonley estate.
At the end of the day, Frost says a lot of the selection happens organically. Many volunteers and Wright home owners have lived in the area a long time, so often someone knows the owner of a house.
“Most owners are not surprised to be asked,” Frost said. “A lot of owners know each other and they share resources, especially when it comes to the historic preservation of their homes. It’s like a community within a community.”
She says that the goal is always to find houses that tell a great story. Those great stories keep people coming back to Wright Plus year after year.
Homeowners also benefit from being on the walk. Frost notes that many of the homeowners who choose to open up their homes for Wright Plus are quite invested in the historic preservation of their homes.
“They care very deeply about these buildings and have a desire to share that and the efforts at historic preservation,” Frost said.
“Beyond that, they get a gigantic history of their house by a researcher, and they also get to participate in gatherings for the homeowners. On top of that, there’s the feeling they get of helping Oak Park and River Forest. It’s such a community event.”
Homeowners Nora Malone and Ryan Tetrick are looking forward to sharing their house, the J. Kibben Ingalls House, on this year’s walk. The couple have lived in the house four years, and say the draw of living in a Wright-designed house moved them to the suburbs earlier than expected.
Malone recalls visiting Wright’s Home and Studio and Unity Temple as a child and says that’s where her love of Wright began. It was an easy decision to let the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust feature their house.
“The trust maintains the Home and Studio and fosters a love of Wright designs,” Malone said. “Helping them raise money is important to us.”
They recently completed exterior painting which restored the home’s original colors and say they look forward to perhaps having the house on the walk sometime in the future when they have done more work to restore the home.
Corrine Penery, co-chair of this year’s Wright Plus, says that while the walk is a great boon to the villages of Oak Park and River Forest from a tourism perspective, it brings much more to the area.
“There’s a sense of vibrancy from the people out in the street and waiting in line,” Penery said. “It’s a fun atmosphere.”
Kwarciany agrees, stating, “We are home to the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the world. There’s a lot to be proud of. The weekend is an opportunity to show off our community, and Wright Plus is a way to engage volunteers and guests. It’s a really big group of people interested in the community. There’s a sense of energy and excitement.”