Wright Plus 150: A birthday housewalk

This year is the sesquicentennial of Frank Lloyd Wright

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is honoring the 150th anniversary of his birth with their annual Wright Plus housewalk on May 20. Wright Plus 150 will open up private homes and public buildings designed by Wright and his contemporaries. This year's walk will feature four private Wright Homes as well as five homes designed by Wright's peers.

The homes

Wright Plus has long been the pinnacle of housewalks in Oak Park and, arguably, the entire country. The in-depth research by Trust volunteers and the unparalleled access to architecturally significant homes concentrated in a single area attract tourists from around the globe. While the Wright-designed homes have all been featured on previous walks, each year the Trust approaches the walk with a fresh perspective, ensuring that the experience is new to all attendees.

Wright Plus coordinator Angela Whitaker praises the homeowners who open their houses to the public, as well as the extensive efforts of the Trust's volunteer research corps. 

"We recently held our volunteer kick-off," she said, "and we are meeting with the homeowners to talk about things, such as the best routes through the houses and interesting features that might start our researchers down the right path. The researchers also meet with the homeowners to go over any items such as blueprints or records they might have, and they also get requests about things the homeowner might be interested in delving into."

In the months leading up to Wright Plus 150, the researcher will prepare in-depth papers on all of the homes. 

"We look at the research papers as a huge gift that we give the homeowners who participate in the walk and as something that is also great for the Trust's library on all of these homes," noted Whitaker.

A pleasant bonus feature of this year's walk is the walkable nature of the loop. All of the homes are located within a few blocks of Wright's Home & Studio (Forest and Chicago avenues). Finding participating homeowners from the same neighborhood all fell into place this year.

"Generally in our planning process, we look at the Wright houses first," she said. "Once we determine that we have a couple of Wright houses in place, we start to look on those streets at non-Wright houses. It's always nice to get a house that has not been on the walk before."

This year's new house is the George Mayo Home, an Italianate home with Prairie updates on Elizabeth Court. Whitaker said everyone involved gets excited about a having a new house on the walk.

"We're really looking forward to the research on this one," she added. "There is no known architect assigned to the house, and there's some confusion about the dates because of additions to the home. We have one of our great researchers working on this one."

The four Wright homes on this year's walk include the Arthur B. Heurtley House, designed in 1902, a Forest Avenue stunner; the Japanese-influenced Hills DeCaro House, designed in 1906; the Harrison P. Young House, remodeled by Wright in 1895; and the visionary Laura Gale House, designed in 1909.

Whitaker explained that, because the Laura Gale House has not been featured on Wright Plus since 2009, the Trust volunteers are particularly looking forward to that part of the tour, and the Trust noticed quite an increase in website traffic when the home was announced for this year's walk.

For returning participants, Whitaker pointed out that several of the homes this year have new owners since they were last included on the walk. While the architecture stays the same, many attendees enjoy seeing the changes in style and furnishings that new owners bring to their historic homes.


Tiered ticket sales

This year, in order to meet the demand of Trust members and non-members for tickets to Wright Plus, they instituted a new, tiered ticket sales system. Prior to Jan. 3, ticket sales were restricted to Trust members.

From Jan. 4 through Feb. 28, Trust members can purchase tickets for $80, non-members for $90. Prices go up $5 between March 1 and 31 and another $5 during the month of April. From May 1 through May 20, members will pay $95 per ticket and non-members $110. For an additional $500 per ticket, any purchaser can buy a fast pass that will get them into the homes without the hassle of waiting in line.

Ultimate packages

For those who want to spend an entire weekend immersed in architecture, the Trust is again offering its Ultimate Plus Weekend Package, priced at $2,500 for members and $2,650 for non-members. The Ultimate Plus Weekend kicks off on Thursday, May 18 with cocktails at Wright's Rookery Light Court in downtown Chicago.

On Friday, May 19, Wright's Chicago offers a day filled with excursions to the Isidore Heller House, an early Wright mansion, and Wright's modern masterpiece, the Frederick C. Robie House. Participants then tour the main house and grounds of the Avery Coonley Estate with the owners and learn about their meticulous restoration of the home.

On Saturday May 20, the package includes fast passes to all of the homes on the walk, with a stop for lunch at the Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park. The day caps off with Exclusively Wright dinners, prepared by acclaimed chefs, in Wright's Harry S. Adams House and Peter A. Beachy House. The Ultimate Plus Package includes transportation and accommodations at Oak Park's Carleton Hotel.

Recognizing that not all Wright-aficionados are arriving from out of town, Whitaker said the Trust decided to add a new package option. 

"We realized that locals might also be interested in some of the bonus activities of the Ultimate Plus Weekend," she said, "but might not need to take advantage of the lodging options or be able to attend for all four days."

The Ultimate Saturday Package, therefore, costs $1,200 for members and $1,350 for non-members and includes fast-pass access to all of the homes, as well as lunch at the Nineteenth Century Club and a seat at the table during one of the Exclusively Wright dinners.

For further details on Wright Plus 150 and ticket and package details, visit www.flwright.org/wrightplus

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