An Oak Park couple is among six recipients of the Wright Spirit Awards, an honor given to owners and stewards of Wright-designed buildings, as well as those who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to preserving and restoring the remaining Wright works or enhancing appreciation of his legacy.
The Wright Spirit Award was established by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 1991. This year’s winners include five in the Professional Category. Linda Eales is being recognized for guiding the transition of Samara, the John and Catherine Christian House in West Lafayette, Indiana, from private home to public site; Jonathan Leck, for his preservation work and craftsmanship in the restoration of a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright buildings; Keiran Murphy, for her in-depth research on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright; and Mary Roberts for shepherding the $50 million restoration of the Martin House in Buffalo, New York. Special honors are being bestowed upon Judy and Dick Corson for their generous support to initiate the inscription of eight Wright buildings on the UNESCO World Heritage List
In the Private Category, Oak Parkers Mark Donovan and Mary Ludgin are being recognized for their restoration of Wright’s Harry Goodrich House. The couple moved into their Wright-designed home on East Avenue almost 24 years ago, and Ludgin noted that their purchase of the home almost didn’t happen.
“Mark had a few rules when we were looking for a house in Oak Park,” she said. “It couldn’t be designed by a named architect, it couldn’t be on a corner, it couldn’t be stucco and it had to have a fireplace.”
Donovan quipped: “I got two out of the four, so I’m batting 500.”
The stucco and wood frame home is one of Wright’s earlier designs, dating to 1896. Ludgin, who was a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, said that she had a bit of remodeling experience under her belt in previous homes. Even so, she and Donovan had their work cut out for them and have spent the past 24 years meticulously restoring their home.
While the exterior of the home, which is in a local historic district, was protected, Ludgin said that the interiors were fair game for remodeling. Even with carte blanche for the interior, she said, “All along, our goal was to be as original to the materials and as well as the style choices as we could be.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust permitted the couple visits to the Home & Studio after hours to examine wood and finishes up close. In their first big project, they remodeled the kitchen, choosing cabinets made of birch and soapstone counters for a period authenticity. Ludgin said, “From the start, we were trying to be as true to Wright as we could, recognizing that Wright was not a kitchen guy.”
The back of the house had been altered significantly over the years, and the couple continued to tackle more projects. They removed a first-floor bathroom that wasn’t original and reworked the third floor when they had to rebuild the roof.
Originally unfinished space, the two-floor height attic was finished by previous owners. When Donovan and Ludgin’s contractor, Bosi, restored the attic in the process of rebuilding the roof, carpenters found sandwiches in the wall cavities wrapped in newspapers dated to spring of 1929, providing a clue about when the attic was finished.
“One thing that was really challenging was that we wanted to make the house as energy efficient as possible. It’s challenging because some energy efficient things get in the way of historic accuracy or vice versa,” Donovan said.
The couple added geothermal heating and cooling to the house, becoming, they believe, the first Wright-designed house to do so.
They also opened up the screened-in porch, revealing its original design and repainted the entire house, inside and out, in its original colors.
The pair got to be creative in the backyard. The garage was not a Wright original, so they were able to replace it with a custom-designed coach house that was based on a Wright design. Donovan said that originally their house was part of planned subdivision of Wright homes. None of the other homes were ever built, but they used the plans for one of the sister houses to inform the coach house’s design.
“We’re trying to keep everything talking to each other as best we can,” he said.
Through their years of renovations, they’ve been guided by architect John Eifler, who they note is a Wright scholar and a Wright homeowner himself.
“By owning a Wright house, you come into a group of other Wright owners. You share ideas, stories and horror stories. That’s been wonderful,” Ludgin said.
Calling their work on the home a “journey,” she spoke for her husband, too, when she added, “For sure, we’d do it all again. It’s a great place to live in.”
Barbara Gordon, executive director of the conservancy states commended the couple’s work.
“Mark and Mary are very deserving of this award because of their long-time, dedicated stewardship and their efforts, which have brought the Goodrich House back to Wright’s original design intent,” she said.
The six winners were recognized in September at the conservancy’s conference in Minneapolis.
For those interested in seeing the home, Donovan and Ludgin said that it will be featured on the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s Wright Plus Housewalk in the spring of 2024.