By Lacey Sikora
On May 18, Wright Plus returns to Oak Park with an unmatched opportunity to tour eight private residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries and two landmarked buildings designed by Wright.
Three homes, the George L. Smith House, the Ernest P. Waud House and the Ashley B. Smith House, will be making their Wright Plus debuts.
Whether the homes are new to the walk or have been featured in previous years, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust volunteer researchers have worked for months to delve into the homes' architecture and personal histories to bring the homes to life for the hundreds of visitors who will take part in the walk.
Angela Whitaker, chairwoman of Wright Plus, says the role the researchers play in the success of the walk is immeasurable for both the homeowners who are asked to open up their homes and to the hundreds of people who buy tickets to see the homes.
"The Wright Plus research report is a unique benefit of participating in the house walk," Whitaker said. "When working with homeowners and inviting them to participate in the walk, the research of their home is often times one of the major components of the event that they look forward to. … This report material is used to develop the speaking points for the tours on Wright Plus day, so it is a key part of the planning of our event. In addition, it is a memorable gift to the homeowner."
The Ashely B. Smith House
The Ashley B. Smith House was built in 1926 and designed in the French Eclectic Style by architect Robert Seyfarth, a prolific North Shore architect who only designed three homes in Oak Park.
Trust researcher Daniel Madden points out an interesting architectural connection: Smith's wife, Martyne Oliver Smith, grew up in another Seyfarth-designed house built in 1910 just blocks away on East Avenue.
Madden notes that Smith was a LaSalle Street stock broker, who did not appear to suffer ill effects during the Depression. For reasons Madden could not determine, the Smiths sold the home in 1935 and moved to similar-sized home a block away.
According to Madden, other than kitchen and bath remodeling, the house retains many original elements.
"Seyfarth's designs were characterized by simple, well-proportioned masses, recessed dormers and floor-to-ceiling windows, he typically finishes with an elaborate entry," Madden said.
Madden says the entry and front door of the Ashley B. Smith House are a highlight not to be missed when touring the house.
The Ernest P. Waud House
The Ernest P. Waud House was built in 1915 and designed by noted architects Tallmadge and Watson.
Sue Blaine, who researched the house for the Trust, says that Waud worked for the Griffin Wheel Company for his entire career, starting as an inspector and rising to become president.
His wife, Olive, created felt ornaments based on Christmas stories for her children and for the Christmas tree at Children's Memorial Hospital. The ornaments are now part of the collection of the Chicago Botanical Garden and are displayed during the holidays.
Blaine notes that Olive also partnered with Narcissa Thorne to run workshops on creating miniature rooms; Thorne's miniature rooms are now on display at the Art Institute. The Wauds lived in the house for only five years before decamping for the Gold Coast in Chicago.
Blaine remarks that the home has seen a few changes over the years. The home's second owners, the Johnsons, hired Tallmadge and Watson in 1927 to add an octagonal breakfast room to the house.
In 2012, the current owners added onto the rear of the house and remodeled the kitchen. She believes the home has had five owners, and five different kitchens, including the original.
Her favorite room is the open living room flanked on one side by an office and on the other by the dining room, with original wood trim banding on the ceiling uniting the three rooms.
The George L. Smith House
The George L. Smith House was built in 1914 and designed by architect John Van Bergen.
Trust researcher Cliff Gray says that the original owners, George, his wife May and their 19-year old daughter Ruth, only lived in the house for one year. He discovered one notable story in the early press on the home about a Christmas Day burglary in 1915 with a total loss of $600, what he says would be over $15,000 in today's dollars.
Architecturally, the house is remarkable because it has been so lightly altered. Gray points to a kitchen renovation as the largest change and says the home retains its original footprint.
Gray calls the living room exceptional and notes the fireplace is atypically placed on an exterior wall and highlights the open space.
The Francis J. Woolley House
In 1893, a young Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Francis J. Woolley House as one of his first Oak Park designs as an independent architect.
The plans of the home are the reversed versions of Wright's Gale and Parker bootleg houses according to Trust researcher Alma Koppedraijer. The original owners were attorney Francis Woolley, his wife Cora and their two young children. The family lived in the home for 10 years and then moved to Glencoe.
Koppedraijer says that by the 1920s the home had been converted to a rooming house. In 1940, 10 boarders lived in the house. She notes that the home experienced several years of decline before a developer purchased the house in 1994 and rehabilitated it.
That developer gutted the interiors, so while Wright's footprint remains largely intact, the only remaining original elements are two fireplaces and a narrow, diamond-paned art glass window in the living room.
A later owner added some Wright-inspired touches such as a beamed ceiling, an integrated light fixture in the dining room and windows inspired by the lotus bud and tulip windows in Wright's own home.
During the walk, Koppedraijer says that display boards will feature photos of the 1896 interior of the home which show Wright's interior elements such as a built-in foyer seat with spindle screen and continuous wood trim.
The William G. Fricke House
The Wright-designed William G. Fricke House was built between 1901 and 1902. The original owners, William and Delia Fricke lived in the home for only four years. William Fricke was a partner in a school supply business.
The second owner, Emma Martin, was a wealthy widow with two sons in college. She hired Wright to design a garage on the northeast corner of the lot for her son's electric car. In 1914, a short circuit in the car caused a fire, and ceiling beams in the garage still bear signs of damage from the fire.
Ken Simpson, a researcher with the Trust, notes that the house looks much as it did originally, other than a modernized kitchen. He points out the "prow" bay window in the music room with leaded glass, similar to the prow design Wright employed for windows in the William Martin House and Robie House from the same era.
Many original leaded glass windows remain and several windows that were removed during the garage remodel were repurposed into a light fixture in the kitchen.
The William E. Martin House
The William E. Martin House was built in 1903, shortly after Wright completed the Fricke House.
Researcher Ken Simpson says that the houses share many of Wright's recognizable Prairie touches, such as wide overhanging eaves, "watertable" elevated bases, bands of leaded glass windows and lack of ornamentation.
Both the Fricke and Martin houses also include a third floor, which Wright did not include in his later Prairie houses. Jack Lesniak, who researched the house for the Trust, states that in 1908 another 50 feet was added to the double lot to allow Wright to design a formal garden, pool and pergola. The garden lot was sold in 1951, the gardens were demolished and a small house was constructed on the new lot.
Wright's introduction to original owner William Martin led to another eight to 10 commissions for Wright according to Lesniak. Many of these additional commissions were in Buffalo, New York, where William's brother Darwin Martin lived. Wright designed Darwin Martin's Buffalo home and the iconic Larkin Soap Company as a result of the connection.
The home retains many of its original features, and Lesniak says the entry hall ceiling boasts a leaded glass light that extends from the entry into the central hall in an intricate design.
The Barrett C. Andrews House
Built in 1906, the Barrett C. Andrews House was designed by architects Tallmadge and Watson.
Original owners Barrett and Hannah Andrews were both graduates of Oak Park High School. Barrett graduated from the University of Chicago and was an advertising executive, and Hannah had a master's degree in economics from Columbia University.
The couple only lived in the house for two years before a job transfer led them to New York City. Researcher Megan Holborn says that Barrett ultimately became vice president of advertising for Vogue Magazine, and Hannah was very involved with civil rights causes.
In 1907, the house was featured in an Architectural Review article which touted the spacious feel of what was then considered a modestly sized home. The home was added onto over the years. A garage was added in the 1920s, and a 1950s addition converted the original L-shaped footprint into a rectangle.
In the 1990s, a family room and breakfast nook were added to the first floor. The living room, though enlarged, has been restored to its original appearance with oak bookcases surrounding the large fireplace, oak crown molding and banded trim and hammered brass light fixtures in each corner of the room.
The George D. Webb House
The George D. Webb House was built in 1910 and designed by architect Henry K. Holsman.
Trust researchers Mike Poirier and Ken Simpson say that Holsman's design career was unusual. A graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, he established his architectural practice in Chicago in 1897 and designed a number of houses, apartment buildings, churches and college buildings in Chicago, Iowa and Wisconsin.
In 1901, he began to design and manufacture high wheel automobiles, and opened Holsman Automobile Works, which remained in business until 1910. Holsman then returned to residential architecture, with an emphasis on multi-family buildings and apartments for low- and middle-income families.
Original owners George and Jessie Webb moved from Iowa to Oak Park with their families in the 1880s and married in Oak Park in 1889. After living in two other Oak Park homes, they commissioned Holsman to build a house for their family of six.
All four of their children were married in the living room of the house. George was a director of Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank and was a founder and longtime board member of the YMCA. George died in 1936, and Jessie remained in the home until her death 10 years later.
The home remained largely unrenovated until 2010, when the current owners renovated the original kitchen and breakfast room. The current owners also installed replacement hardwood floors throughout and custom wallpapers that replicate 100-year old designs. A downstairs library is decorated with a hand-painted mural.
"The entire house is beautifully restored and decorated in the arts and crafts style," Poirier said. "The original light fixtures, oak floors and woodwork, and striking wallpapers make this house a showstopper."
The Wright Plus housewalk takes place on Saturday, May 18. Information about tickets sales, other weekend events and frequently asked questions can be found at flwright.org/wrightplus.
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