Unity Temple lettering stolen from Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic church

Fifty bronze letters stolen


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By Ben Meyerson

Chicago Journal Editor

The theft of metal in Oak Park and River Forest has focused mostly on copper downspouts and coping. But overnight between Sept. 28 and Sept. 29, the epidemic hit one of Oak Park's most famous landmarks, and hit it hard.

Fifty original bronze letters were stolen from Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple.

The iconic bronze letters, which adorn both of the building's main entrances, say "For the worship of God and the service of man."

The police summary said it wasn't clear how the letters were removed, but Unity Temple's Director of Administration, David Wilke, said they were stolen from both sides of the building, and only a few were left behind.

"It's a very important part of the building, and it's unfortunate that after more than 100 years, someone decided to rip them off," Wilke said.

The inscription defines the two main sections of the church: the large sanctuary for worship, and the equally large Unity House, for community events and activism.

While the original police report estimated the total loss as $80,000, Wilke wasn't sure that was accurate.

The congregation hasn't figured out how much it'll cost to replace the letters, he said, and there are a lot of parties that need to be consulted on the matter considering the building's landmark status. Beyond the congregation, the village, the state and landmark groups need to be consulted.

Wilke said they're keeping their options open. They're still waiting to hear back from their insurance company on what, if any, coverage they'll get.

Beyond that, though, there's the question of what to restore them with. Should they bring back the original bronze, or replace them with a material that looks good, but is perhaps less appealing to criminals?

"We're working with a restoration person, but we haven't priced this out yet," Wilke said. "Given that it's specialty work for a historic landmark, we can't just look up the price in a book."

A very low-end estimate, though, would be roughly $10,000 to replace and repair them, Wilke estimated.

"It's a very delicate situation, because we have a lot of constituents," Wilke said. "They're really an important part of the structure."

Reader Comments

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anthony gambino  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 8:45 PM

Cucina Paradiso will be having a fundraiser Thursday, October 21st 2010 at the restaurant. A portion of all the dining sales will be donated to Unity Temple. All you have to do is come out for dinner to help out. Contact Unity Temple for any further details.

betsy from oak park   

Posted: October 10th, 2010 12:43 AM

Where on earth were the police for this? It had to take awhile and it was on the roof of a historical landmark right on the main drag, for crying out loud. This is not the finest moment for Oak Park's Finest. I feel sorry for the beat cop for this neighborhood. I love Oak Park's police, they do a great job. But this is an embarrassment for them.


Posted: October 8th, 2010 12:47 AM

Joblessness is not an excuse for crime, I agree. I was trying to move this discussion to something other than outrage over a building, albeit this building, to outrage over the reality of the "socioeconomic realities" of the state of this country.

Gregg Kuenster from OP  

Posted: October 6th, 2010 8:39 PM

My 2 year olds' tricycle was stolen a couple of weeks ago from a front yard. The thieves of copper letters made more money than those stealing my daughters' trike. The criminal element is overwhelming our ability to protect our sense of safety.We cannot afford the police we have now.We need to contract affordable private security.We need to keep thieves in jail than more than one day.

Dutch Elm from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2010 6:19 PM

A few years ago, Ascension had a substantial section of copper downspout stolen - during 11:00 Sunday Mass! The perp was caught shortly thereafter in Berwyn. Look, these slobs don't care. They would yank the fillings out of your mouth if it could buy beer and dope. Given Unity's well known money problems - why not replace the letters with neon?


Posted: October 5th, 2010 9:29 AM

It's beyond time to have security cameras on this building. Last year someone climbed up on the roof and poured tar through the glass roof.I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't in fact done by a jobless architect or FLW fanatic. Cameras caught a tiny glasses wearing archinerd stealing artifacts from the Monadnock.As a congregation we can't afford to maintain this building, let alone have to continue to repair damage by vandals and weirdos.


Posted: October 5th, 2010 8:54 AM

@H Vogel - It is a Unitarian Universalist church. Some members have trying to pry "God" out of there for a long time themselves. This is serious though. The building is enough trouble to maintain without yahoos and hooligans tearing it down.

adele groote from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 7:04 PM

Joblessness is by far any excuse. Even jobless and in desperate need to finance surgery does not offer an excuse. There is NO EXCUSE and this business of "understanding the socioeconomic realities" of the perps lends to collective denial that one finds around here. I agree: CAMERAS!!!!!


Posted: October 4th, 2010 5:25 PM

I agree with all of you. However, these crimes could be the result of someone being out of a job longterm. Copper has value. Perhaps we can move the corporations and banks to begin letting go of the millions in dollars they are holding to begin opening up the job markets.

Melanie W from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 4:58 PM


Rich from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 12:27 PM

Noticed all the copper planters attached to the storefronts along Lombard next to The Buzz Cafe were missing too. Plant contents just dumped on the sidewalk. How much longer are we going to put up with this vandalism? Are our aluminum downspouts going to be back in play again?

Bill from Berwyn  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 11:23 AM

We should also go after any metal recycling shop that would accept this or any other copper/metals that are obviously stolen.As long as they accept these, the stealing will prevail.

Brian Crawford from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 10:57 AM

This is an astonishing and sickening crime. As a national landmark, I would hope that this is a federal offense and that the FBI is involved in the investigation. These heinous thieves need to be brought to justice.I am stunned and beyond saddened that this could happen.

Andrew M. Nocker from Sister Bay, Wi 54234  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 10:01 AM

Apparently there were more than 60 letters on both sides of the building involved. Without a ladder such removal would be impossible. Assuming just one minute removal time per letter it would take more than an hour.I can not believe that not a single person saw this happen without calling 911!

H Vogel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 9:56 AM

You have to wonder what they were thinking as they pried the word "God" from the building.

Carrie Bankes from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 9:53 AM

I'd agree, but we Unitarian Universalists don't generally believe in hell. May make an exception here...

Tim Clarke from Des Plaines, Illinois  

Posted: October 4th, 2010 9:48 AM

It is absolutley sickening that someone would steal lettering from a house of worship and no less than a national treasure. Someone needs to rot in hell.

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