Wright project demolition could face opposition

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The public will get its first chance to weigh in on the proposed demolition of a historic house at 925 Chicago Ave. to make way for an 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright education facility and visitor center at a meeting of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission.

The meeting will be held at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., room 201 on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Douglas Gilbert, a former chair of the Historic Preservation Commission and a former member of the Oak Park Plan Commission, tells Wednesday Journal that opposition is mounting to the demolition of the historic house (see Viewpoints, page 30).

Gilbert said he supports the plan to build a visitor and education center but opposes the demolition of the house, which was likely built in the mid-1880s. Gilbert also said he opposes removal of the building, an option offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

He noted that the house was built prior to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, which will be adjacent to the new center.

* This story was updated to correct the size of the proposed new building. 

Email: tim@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 5:32 PM

@ Turnbull: I seem to recall an automotive show room on Madison Street that is some how in need of saving. Wouldn't it be great if FLW Foundation stepped forth and saved that building and used it for their visitors center. Plenty of parking and a shuttle bus to ferry visitors back and forth, relieving the parking load around the home. Way to practical, functional. Idea doesnt stand a chance.

Amanda Turnbull from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 3:48 PM

Why does Oak Park seem to think FLW is the ONLY architect worth preserving? Why can't the new visitor center be put into one of the dozens of empty storefronts in Oak Park? Why do they have to demolish a historic building just to build another shrine to FLW? Just curious...

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 12:49 PM

P.S. Note: "The public will get its first chance to weigh in on the proposed demolition of a historic house"..."The meeting will be held at Village Hall, 123 Madison St., room 201 on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30pm." That's tonight. After 46 years of involvement in local politics, I can tell you with certainty that it was always a tactic of the Village Manager Boards to schedule controversial issues during the summer, when people were out of town and they were enjoying the summer with their families. People just can't live on a steady diet of controversial community issues, they want time off from going to more meetings in the summer regarding more controversies. Often things were passed because the participation of citizens is at an all time low in the summer. The other thing is that this won't be viewed as if it is as serious as some other neighborhood's issues but, as Alistair Reynolds says ""Everything depends on everything else, doesn't it? That's interconnectivity for you ?" it's a bitch."

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 11:38 AM

Joel, I know someone from Princeton, IL who also comes from an idyllic small town with "lots of festivals and events centered around its historic heritage and homes" as you describe. It's an enviable way of life vs. urban life where, although there are so many neighborhood festivals, it is work getting around to them. You are right about Oak Park not quite getting it how to manage, monetize and yet keep the historic preservation nature of being stewards of this great architectural gift we have all been given, custodians for a time. But there are many of us who would welcome this Visitors Center that would be an asset not just to the Home and Studio but for tourism. The problem most expressed by the people, who oppose the new proposal is the location is a hypocritical choice for FLW devotees to locate the Center smack dab in a residential location when it is a commercial enterprise. Additionally, we/neighbors were always told and respected the no demolition ordinance, keeping Wright's work in its original context, as well as respecting the work of the other 99+ architects who chose to build in this Living Laboratory of American Architecture that Oak Park turned out to be. The idea of putting the work of another architect (even if he is a respected one) up against Wright's work is damn near sacrilegious. This Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District is focused on exactly what it says...Wright's work. I've been waiting for the Italian-American Society to protest the demolition of an Italianate house but maybe they haven't heard yet. That Italianate home is historic home, however humble, they are not a dime a dozen in Oak Park. So, there are many of us that are indeed for development, the right kind of development that does not ask for special privileges residents don't even ask for. Better the center is more strategically placed, as has been pointed out, on Lake Street to welcome visitors who arrive on public transportation for the day when they come to Oak Park.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 8:29 AM

It's interesting -- I'm from a tiny town in Michigan whose biggest claim to fame is that it was chosen to be the state's capitol before that got switched to Lansing. The town holds lots of festivals and events centered around its historic heritage and homes. By contrast, Oak Park - home to America's most famous architect AND one of America's most famous authors - can't quite figure out how to monetize either of those connections in any meaningful way. I express no opinion re. the proposed Visitors Center, but I do note that Oak Parkers seem to want (a) more and more goodies provided by the village, (b) lower taxes, and (c) little to no growth/development. We as a community are going to have to pick two -- saying we want all three makes us look ridiculous.

Pierangela Murphy from River Forest  

Posted: July 11th, 2019 7:38 AM

Oak Park's neighbors across Harlem also have a Preservation Commission, yet a current 1920's Buurma Tudor is being demolished. Preservation should be respected, otherwise rename the Commission.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2019 10:32 PM

Are there one or two unimportant houses, with perhaps ugly 1970's styling, within a short walk of the FLW Studio that could instead be razed and used for the new facility? Make an offer on those, replace those and keep the old farm house as a reference site it is now. Make it a Win for everyone.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 10th, 2019 2:36 PM

Nicholas K. Your post gets to the heart of it all. If Doug Gilbert, former chair of the Historic Preservation Commission and a former member of the Oak Park Plan Commission, says the demolition is unwise, there you have an authoritative view. But sometimes in the deliberations, they lose, too. This proposal was as if it had been pre-decided in the news where it appeared, especially when the FLW Preservation Trust announced ground-breaking in Spring 2020. What?! Did we all miss the public hearing? The Visitors Center is definitely a commercial enterprise and the location it is proposed for is zoned residential. My friend and neighbor believes it should be near Unity Temple. Good idea. If it were to be near the Home and Studio, take some of that $5-$10M and make an offer to buy O'Connor Cleaners on the SE corner along with buying FCPilgrim/Baird & Warner. I could just see visitors checking in to get maps at Marion and Chicago Avenue and starting their tour going east on Chicago past Wright's original work here, his bootleg houses while he was working for Louis Sullivan. And the tour would progress from there. Surely people would help out in the interest of heightening property values with these new prestigious additions, World Heritage Site and Visitors Center, to uphold the architectural treasure trove that is the Village of Oak Park. But an Oak Parker I talked to about this yesterday said he feels strongly that so many of the visitors come out here on the L that the Visitors Center should continue to be in Downtown Oak Park because that is where their entrance into the Village's architecture tour begins. I think he has a good point...and it is an area zoned commercial.

Chris Deegan  

Posted: July 10th, 2019 10:38 AM

Yes, but still no property tax revenue generated from the building owners that would at least stall ongoing tax increases in the village?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2019 8:07 AM

Chris Deegan - all those condos you deplore are actually rentals.

Chris Deegan  

Posted: July 10th, 2019 5:45 AM

Can we take a look at the wider picture? FLW's Unity Temple was just designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. We have an 'Historic District' that celebrates his [and other's] work and design. Yet we also have 4 recently built condo behemoths that reflect little curiosity in design and offer zero tax break to citizens of OP. The design of the visitor center is controversial and if it is meant to draw people to OP for a FLW experience, we have yet to think about increased traffic in a neighborhood and elementary school zone or inadequate parking. If we want to embrace the full architectural legacy of FLW and others in our village, we need to think strategically about how to leverage this to OP citizen advantage. Right now it seems that village planners believe that high rise box condos are good for the village: I'm not sure what advantage tax paying residents get. But then, the same folks who allowed the condo high rises are probably the ones who will make the decision about the visitor center.

Nicholas Kalogeresis  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 10:07 PM

Rich Barker - if we took that line of reasoning for every house that in the Historic District, then we'd be free to demolish every house in the District. Not every house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or his apprentices. Not every house in the district has a story that's widely known. But they all contribute architecturally and historically to understanding the district's development. That's why communities establish historic districts.

Tom Coffman  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 8:47 PM

The building was built at the same time as the home and studio. If the village is going to move away from historical preservation then it's not an issue. If we are going to force developers to restore properties rather than tear downs, this would signal a shift from historical correctness to economic development. The buildings by mills park should be allowed to be demoed if this is the future. Too much money greecing the process, it seems. Not for profit money has more power around here. I hope to be proved wrong.

Rich Barker from Oak Park  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 6:21 PM

Not every older home is architecturally or historically significant. Where was the uproar when one of the homes on Elizabeth CT (about a block from the home and studio) got a horrific make over from a raised Cape Cod to some sort of mid-century modern look? At the end of the day, the center will be far more positive for Oak Park than maintaining the house in question. Absent a compelling historical or architectural story, I will support the trust's efforts to build the center where they choose.

Nicholas Kalogeresis from Oak Park  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 5:09 PM

Doug- the building has been rehabbed. It is no longer a wreck.

Doug Kittredge from Oak park  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 4:33 PM

They don't know who built it or exactly when it was built. It has looked like a wreck for years. Not every building is a treasure.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 4:24 PM

If they really need a vistor/outreach/education center put it on Lake Street near Unity Temple where there are parking garages and public transit, plenty of nearby restaurants and shops, and in an area more suited to a commercial use than in the middle of a single-family residential block.

Joanne Fleming from McPherson   

Posted: July 9th, 2019 4:22 PM

Couldn't they make the house into the education center.? That way they would not have to destroy it.

Bettie Pagett  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 4:19 PM

so move it! we do that all the time in CA.

Sam Roe  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 4:06 PM

So we're going to demolish a historic home in order to celebrate architecture? There must be a better way.

Lori Malinski from Oak Park  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 2:44 PM

After several starts and stops over the years, that house was finally rehabbed! Do not demolish!

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