Chicago Seven makes Wright Plus a tradition

Friends have gathered in Oak Park to take in housewalk for more than a decade

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Dubbed the Chicago Seven by a former Oak Park innkeeper who helped bring them together, seven friends have been meeting for more than 15 years to attend Wright Plus. 

Drawn together by a love of architecture and the Under the Ginkgo Tree Bed and Breakfast, the group remains connected by the opportunity to appreciate architecture and renew the bonds of friendship provided by Wright Plus every May.

Architect Ron Makovich, who hails from Ohio, says that this year will mark his and wife Barb's 35th Wright Plus walk. As an architecture student at Kent State in the 1960s, Makovich toured Wright's Falling Water and thus began an intense interest in the architect's work. 

"I studied a lot of it in college and applied his Usonian concepts to my work," Makovich said. "I wrote my senior thesis on Usonian concepts, and I'm doing a house now in Phoenix that uses the Prairie School vernacular."

The rest of the group includes architecture buffs and historic home lovers, and members hail from parts near and far. Everyone returns yearly to reconnect and discuss the latest crop of houses featured on the annual Wright Plus housewalk. 

Miche Gregory makes the trip from Colorado, Suzy Higdon from Indiana, Bill Keene from Virginia and Dee and Walt Steitz from Ohio. 

"We stayed at Under the Ginkgo tree, a glorious place, the first year it opened," Makovich said. 

The bed and breakfast run by Gloria Onischuk was just a short walk to Wright's Home and Studio and the perfect jumping off point for a weekend based around Wright Plus. After a few years of travelling solo, he and Barb met the rest of the group when they also booked rooms at the inn for Wright Plus.

"Our group has been together sometime between 15 and 18 years," Makovich said. "Gloria named us the Chicago Seven." 

He recalls lengthy conversations on the front porch of the home, dissecting the architectural wonders they saw on the housewalk and says that Gloria and her husband were a part of the group.

Gloria was protective of their reservations. Makovich recalls her saying in response to someone asking about the possibility of renting a room during Wright Plus, "There's only two ways to get a room here. One is by death and one is by divorce. I'm officially booked on this weekend forever."

Health issues caused Gloria and her husband to sell Under the Ginkgo Tree in 2014. The Chicago Seven has since decamped to the Carleton Hotel and continues to look forward to their yearly meet up. 

Makovich says the opportunity to be immersed in the community is a valuable part of the experience.

"For us, walking these houses is key," he said. "When you stand in the line, you get to learn the context of the homes. Subliminally, you learn what Wright and these architects were trying to say with their homes. That's why we've continued to do this every year."

Another big draw? The friendship and conversation. Makovich says that every member of the Chicago Seven brings unique life experiences and perspectives to the discussion. 

"Bill [Keene] brings the intellectual understanding of Wright's work [and] I bring to the table the successes and failures of Wright's work," Makovich said. "Others, like my wife, really understand period design. It's the exchange of ideas as well as the camaraderie and the different regional ideas that make our time together so interesting."

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