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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