Wright Trust to build new education center

Demolishing older home to make room for 20,000-square-foot building

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has announced that it is building a new state-of-the-art visitor and education center adjacent to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in the 900 block of Chicago Avenue. 

The multimillion project will bring a 20,000-square-foot facility and outdoor space to the property now occupied by a residential building at 925 Chicago Ave. That building will be demolished, according to Frank Lloyd Wright Trust President and CEO Celeste Adams. 

The new 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot visitor and education center also will incorporate a building directly east of the home and studio, which is now used as office space for the trust. 

The trust selected architect John Ronan, who designed the Chicago Poetry Foundation building in downtown Chicago, to design the new visitor center. 

"This is the most important initiative since the trust's founding and restoration of the Home and Studio," Frank Lloyd Wright Trust Board Chairman Bob Miller said in a press release. "It will ensure that Wright's legacy remains vital to future generations. Ronan's proposal was chosen for its design simplicity, quiet presence within the site, and use of materials referencing the site and surrounding neighborhood."

The new center will include a reception hall, gift shop and wooded outdoor plaza to host special events, lectures, receptions and other community events, according to the trust.

The new building's education center will include a design studio, offering classes and an area to display work by area artists. It also will house a library on all things Wright for researchers. Those documents are currently stored in a residence immediately east of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. That residence, which will remain intact, was where Wright's mother, Anna Lloyd Wright, lived at one time.

Adams said in a telephone interview that the trust has submitted plans to the village of Oak Park and will give its first formal presentation on the project at the July 11 meeting of the village's Historic Preservation Commission, at 7:30 p.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St. 

The trust proposes demolishing a residence at 925 Chicago Ave., which was not designed by Wright, to make room for the center. The trust purchased the building in December 2017 for $340,000. The Italianate-style home was built in 1888, one year before Wright built his own home and studio. 

The commission must recommend a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition, which requires approval by the Oak Park Board of Trustees.

Adams said the trust "looked very, very closely" at preserving the residence and making it part of the center, but there were "too many obstacles to making it a public-use building."

The small, narrow house is not ADA-accessible and would require installation of an elevator to open it up to the public, she said. 

"It's really not an easy adaptation," Adams said.

The trust is offering the building for free to anyone with the ability to move it, she said, noting that she found evidence of Wright making the same offer on a different house during his time in Oak Park.

"This opens up tremendous potential for the future," Adams said.

She said that the home and studio attracts an estimated 90,000 visitors to Oak Park a year. The trust operates five sites in the Chicago area, which bring in about 150,000 visitors annually, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. 

Once the visitor and education center is completed, Adams said the trust estimates a 15 percent increase in traffic to the five sites. 

"Part of the goal is to have people come and stay longer," Adams said. 

The trust is raising funds for the new center, which is expected to cost somewhere between $5 million and $10 million. Adams said the trust already has received $3 million in private commitments toward the project. 

"If funding is in place, we could break ground as early as spring 2020 and have it done in 2021," Adams said. 

She said the trust hopes the center will help attract more visitors over the winter, when attendance drops off significantly. She said visitors now have to wait outside for their Home and Studio tours to begin. The center would provide a café and other amenities. 

Along with the effort to attract more visitors, Adams said the trust aims to provide forums and other opportunities for those in and around Oak Park.

"We want to provide a deeper educational experience for everyone – for people who live in the community and those who visit," she said. 


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Reader Comments

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Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 11:26 AM

Note: The question marks in the two posts below are not in the original text and they were not added by me. They just appeared on their own.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 11:24 AM

The following is quoting the American Planning Association whose website says "Creating Great Communities for all". taken from their page on the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. "Planning Excellence A virtual living museum of the last 150 years of architecture in the U.S., the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District contains the world's single greatest concentration of residences designed by architects collectively known as the Prairie School. The extraordinary range of architecture illustrates Oak Park's evolution from rural village to urban suburb." "one of the most architecturally endowed urban landscapes in the country." "Defining Characteristics, Features - Architectural Diversity - Nearly 90 percent of 1,934 structures in this neighborhood contribute to its status as a local (1972) and national (1973) historic district. District contains largest concentration ?" more than 80 examples ?" of Prairie style structures by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects. District known for mix of architecture; early Gothic Revival and Italianate structures give way to styles from the late Victorian era." Oak Parkers know what they have got going on here, a unique offering of American architecture. People don't seem to like the idea of outside agencies trifling with the neighborhood and the Village just because somehow in this fragile Illinois economy, the Home and Studio and the Trust have come into some money. This isn't their decision alone to change the landscape of the neighborhood. It isn't their decision alone to decide if this is a good proposal, good architecture, or good for Oak Park.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 11:07 AM

The Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District was created in 1972. " The Village of Oak Park is noted internationally for its historic architecture, with styles including Queen Anne, Prairie School and Colonial Revival. Oak Park is known particularly as the home of Frank Lloyd Wright from 1889-1909, and holds the largest concentration of Prairie School architecture in America, including 25 designs by Wright. The Village has three historic districts ?" The Ridgeland/Oak Park Historic District, Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District and Gunderson Historic District. These areas, comprising approximately a third of the Village, are locally designated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Oak Park also has seven buildings listed on the National Register, in addition to more than 60 locally designated historic landmarks." (from the Village's Historic Preservation page.) Since then there was a moratorium on tear downs in the FLW District. When FLW's Hills House on Forest was destroyed by fire in 1976, owners, Tom and Irene DeCaro, good stewards, went beyond what insurance covered into their own finances to restore the home. In addition, neighbors had a housewalk on Forest and raised more than $20,000 to help with the restoration. My husband, a CPA, John Yopp, a lawyer, and Diane Davis, a master organizer, kept track of the finances. The event attracted tourists from all over the world wanting to support the rebuilding effort to keep Wright's work in the context in which it was built. Now, the very organization created to protect Wright's Legacy, the FLW Trust and the FLW Home and Studio would break the rules - no tear downs and keeping FLW's studio in the context in which it was built. This is absurd. We have here 'a living museum' as has often been said. The Trust and the Home and Studio, neither more important than homeowners, neither exempt from the tradition established to keep the FLW Home and Studio in its original context.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 6:01 PM

I am speaking as a resident of Oak Park and also as an architect, historian, preservationist and conservationist. It is a poor architect that can't work with an existing building as good as the building at 925 Chicago Avenue, and a poor program from a preservation organization that would ask for such a building to be torn down. I can not believe that this is the best that Ronan can come up with and that the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust would even think that this was a good idea. I hope that the Historic Preservation Commission and the Village Board do their duty and deny any demolition permit.

Nicholas Kalogeresis from Oak Park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2019 3:56 PM

If only John Thorpe were still alive to see this. The plans proposed by the Trust present many questions. It makes me wonder if the Trust really needs this facility or is it really a vanity project. The Wright-designed Martin House in Buffalo, New York recently constructed a brand-new, modern-looking visitors center designed by a star- architect. So we in Oak Park must get one to keep up with the Joneses? Where any alternatives considered? Was the neighborhood consulted on those alternatives?. If we're the "Preservation Trust", why wouldn't we a find a way to incorporate the house as part of new visitor's facility? Why would the visitors need to go up on a second floor of the house anyway? We can guess that the Trust has already approached the Village on how to handle a negative decision by the Historic Preservation Commission if they deny the demolition permit. The Trust will likely get a special pass by the Village Board on appeal because it's about "economic development" - let alone the Board has recently denied demolition permits for other properties within Oak Park's historic districts. What are the reasons for the Trust to get special dispensation? This not about being anti-Preservation Trust - it's about understanding would make for an appropriate start-of-art-visitors center within the context of a historic neighborhood. This project should get a thorough vetting by the community so that we're not stuck with a facility that only Dan Haley and the Trust wants. Wish you were still here John.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 6:32 PM

Those who are criticizing the architectural design of the FLW center have it all wrong. What you folks fail to realize is that Oak Park made an architectural pivot with the rise of the Building Formerly Known as Whiteco (BFKAW - just around the corner by the way). Prior to that we were known for our celebrated architectural gems; not only the architecture of FLW but for other schools as well. Notice our outstanding Victorian stock for instance. However, the BFKAW, and its recent brethren (in particular the "Brick" at South Blvd and Harlem) have expanded our architectural footprint, nation wide in fact. They serve as prime examples of Soviet inspired architecture. Few of us can drop everything and hop on a plane for a tour of the real thing in Mother Russia. But now we have several fine examples of the Soviet spirit expressed in architecture locally right here in Oak Park. And one thing about Soviet architecture: it is uuugly. And hideous. The more ugly the better. So my complaint is that the proposed FLW center though arguably ugly is not ugly enough. It has a ways to go yet to achieve prime Soviet Ugliness ? like the BFKAW. Yes, we do need new architects ? preferably the ones who designed the glorious BFKAW.

Terence Jones  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 5:35 PM

Are they PAYING this architect? The design looks like a free download from "Visitors Centers R Us". Totally inappropriate for the purpose, location and context.

Patricia Skinner from OAK PARK  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 2:23 PM

This architect was chosen for his "design simplicity" - in another location I'm sure it is a perfectly appropriate structure. However, based on the photos presented in this article it does not befit the neighborhood in any way and is not in keeping with the spirit of Wright's design philosophy. I am used to the FLW Trust getting a pass from the Village on virtually anything they want to do, but in this case I hope that the Village will ask them to go back to the drawing board. Very disappointed in this concept.

Heinz Schuller from Oak Park  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 10:57 AM

"Building becomes architecture only when the mind of man consciously takes it and tries with all his resources to make it beautiful, to put concordance, sympathy with nature, and all that into it. Then you have architecture." ? Frank Lloyd Wright

Linda Vasquez from Oak Park   

Posted: June 20th, 2019 8:46 AM

Why don't We ask Oak Park High school students to design the new center? Omg these photos are so UGLY! So NOT Wright! I'm so upset, NEW ARCHITECT ....NOW!

Linda Vasquez from Oak Park   

Posted: June 20th, 2019 8:34 AM

That picture better not be the new center design because it is plain & ugly on outside & doesn't fit in with Wright architecture!!! I think I better be at the meeting before Oak Park does another disaster build/ construction project

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 8:16 AM

A few years ago The FLW Foundation applied and was approved for funds from the Village of Oak Park $20,000 to remove a utility pole from the front of the property. The $20,000 could have been raised in 20 months by raising the entry fee by a dollar, however taxpayers were forced to pay. The question now is was the expense necessary? Maybe the utility pole would have come down in the proposed expansion. Although a few years later.

Tom Coffman  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 9:51 PM

Tear down an adjacent house built one year off the home and studio? John Thorpe is yelling in his grave. You can't have an accurate presentation without the neighborhood. The architects have to make it work! Parking is a separate issue but critical.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 9:05 PM

Where will the 15% increase in visitors park. Not all come on buses? It will be built no matter what is said but at least talk about the issues that come with this build. Be transparent. Not something our taxing bodies do well at.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 3:40 PM

Shouldn't the new structure at minimum have some semblance of Frank Lloyd Wright unique architectural elements?

Mary Prah Cozzens  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 3:37 PM

That is hideously ugly and will stand out like a sore thumb in this lovely neighborhood. Please go back to the drawing table.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 3:32 PM

To Mrs. Herman. The 8 condos referred to was for 1014 and 1018 Pleasant in which the commission and trustees denied my request for demolition despite qualifying under the hardship provisions of the ordinance.

Meg Herman  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 2:56 PM

Terrible idea, terrible looking concept for neighborhood. Waste of dollars. Better: condo idea in another's comment here.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 1:53 PM

Merely shows the hypocrisy in this community by leadership. Most likely demo will ultimately be approved but heaven forbid a private citizen in a historic district who owned prior to the creation of a historic district is precluded from demolition resulting in a substantial loss of funds. Increased visitor traffic seems like a plus but so would 8 deluxe condos generating several hundred thousand more in real estate taxes.

Chris Deegan  

Posted: June 19th, 2019 1:45 PM

Good idea to enhance the Wright experience. Has there been thought about increased traffic in this neighborhood?..or parking?

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