The Pleasant Home in Oak Park is perhaps the most notable of a handful of homes in the village designed by architect George W. Maher. The architect, who was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, is finally getting some recognition of his own with the launching of the George Maher Society by Pleasant Home Foundation.
Pleasant Home, also known as the John Farson House, sits at the corner of Pleasant and Home avenues in Oak Park. Long-owned by the Park District of Oak Park, the house is one of the earliest examples of Maher’s interpretation of the Prairie Style. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.
Maher was born in West Virginia in 1864, and his family moved to Chicago in the late 1870s. Shortly after that move, as a teenager, Maher began to work as an architectural apprentice. In the late 1880s, he joined the firm of Joseph Silsbee and worked there as a draftsman. For three years, he worked with another young draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright.
In the 1890s Maher built his own home in north suburban Kenilworth, where many of his home designs still stand. Wright built his home in Oak Park. In 1897, Maher was commissioned to design Pleasant Home.
Maher died by suicide in the 1920s, so his career was not as long as Wright’s but Kevin Brown, director of programming and marketing for the Pleasant Home Foundation, notes the two architects had lives of parallel significance.
“They were both at the forefront of inventing the same type of architecture — the Prairie Style,” Brown said. “They ran in the same circles, were in the same clubs and wrote papers on their field.”
Sarah Brown, executive director of the Pleasant Home Foundation, says the society is part of the foundation’s strategic plan and has roots going back to the foundation’s beginning.
The establishment of a George Maher Society dedicated to the architect’s work goes back years, according to Kevin Brown.
“It’s always been an objective of the Pleasant Home Foundation to educate people about George Maher,” he said. “It took a long time to bring this arm of the foundation together.”
While the society is still a work in progress, Kevin Brown says there are some basic tenets. The society is funded by memberships, donations and sponsorships.
“We feel comfortable putting this out there, but it’s not in finished form and probably won’t be for years,” he said. “It’s good to start now.”
Noting that some will choose to support the society because they are neighbors of the Pleasant Home or other Maher homes, he says that he believes many early members will be people with an interest in Maher or people who, like he and wife Sarah, own a Maher-designed home.
Brown plans to cultivate a combination of educational and social events for the Society. So far, he has already shared a few photo shoots of Maher designs on the society’s Facebook page, including an Itasca home that is undergoing restoration. He says that using photo shoots has been a popular way to share different architectural elements of Maher’s work.
He points out the importance of sharing all of Maher’s work and styles, emphasizing,
“Maher was not just a Prairie School architect.”
In the future, Brown plans to expand his documentation of Maher designs from photography to videos.
When it comes to the social side of the George Maher Society, Brown envisions meet-ups and evening events in Maher homes with tours, presentations on the history of the homes, cocktails and shared stories of the homes’ owners.
Brown and his wife hosted the first such event at their own Maher home in Blue Island, and he is excited that several other Maher home owners have reached out to express interest in hosting similar gatherings.
Brown says there are at least four Maher houses still standing in Oak Park. One across the street from Pleasant Home was torn down years ago to make way for an apartment building. He hopes the Oak Park homeowners will join the society and says it will welcome those in other communities.
He has already travelled to Wausau, Wisconsin, where he photographed three Maher homes and is hoping to travel to Minnesota this summer where he has identified three to four homes near Minneapolis and Winona.
The website, GeorgeMaher.org serves as a digital hub for the new society and will continue to be filled with information on Maher and his career, as well as photographs and stories of his work around the country.
Different membership tiers are available (https://georgemaher.org/maher-homeowners-club) and the society also features a Maher Homeowners Club with special benefits and discounts on ticketed events. (https://georgemaher.org/maher-homeowners-club)