Investing in Wright

Opinion: Editorials

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The news Sunday that eight buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the grace-filled Unity Temple in Oak Park, had been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list is an affirmation of Wright's place in creating America's modern architecture and of the status of his work, now added to a list of structures that includes the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids of Giza. 

Every organization working to preserve, restore and, too often, simply save Wright buildings across the globe is over the moon with this recognition. Rightly so.

This deserved honor turns our attention to Wright's Home & Studio as debate begins in town over plans by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to expand the campus of the Home & Studio with the construction of a 20,000-square-foot visitor and education center just east of the landmark. 

That proposal would require the demolition or relocation of a Trust-owned home at 925 Chicago Ave. Oak Park's Historic Preservation Commission will soon hear arguments pro and con about the demolition of the home. The Italianate-style house is historic if one goes simply by age, having been constructed in 1888. Further, it can be argued that its location within the Wright Historic District makes it a contributing structure to the district along with the hundreds of other homes in that neighborhood. 

Beyond those points though, this house is not exceptional in any way. And it is our view that if relocating the home is not possible, then demolition is an acceptable path to a much greater good. We hope the commission agrees and the village board subsequently makes short work of this decision.

Those who worry that demolishing this home would be the start of an era of teardowns in this historic district are seriously overstating what is clearly a one-off opportunity to substantially expand and enhance the Home & Studio. In the 40 years since Wright's Home & Studio was saved from ruin by visionary Oak Parkers, Wright's work has become an economic engine for Oak Park. Measure it by tourists attracted, currently at 90,000 annually, or as a defining point of pride for locals, the Home & Studio is essential to this community.

The construction of a sleek and subtle new building to house a reception hall, community events, a larger gift shop and serve as a learning center for visitors is a worthwhile and welcome investment in this village. With a construction price of $5 to $10 million, this is an ambitious effort by the nonprofit foundation. 

The recognition this week of Wright's iconic status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization simply clarifies what a clear choice this is.

We offer our enthusiastic support. 

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