Opposition is organizing against a proposal by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to demolish two historic buildings to make room for a new visitor and education center on land adjacent to the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio – and now an alternative proposal has emerged.
An Oak Park architect, who has renovated three Frank Lloyd Wright homes – one of which he lives in – has joined with a group of preservationists and is suggesting a new proposal that would preclude the demolition of a historic residence at 925 Chicago Ave. and some of the alterations proposed for another historic building at 931 Chicago Ave.
Paul Harding, of Harding Partners Architects, and others plan to attend a meeting of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., in room 201.
It will be the second time the commission has heard testimony on the proposal. The commission, which only provides a recommendation to the Oak Park Board of Trustees, appeared poised to reject the proposal at its July 11 meeting.
Harding said in a telephone interview it is not a "binary choice" of either demolishing and altering the buildings versus not constructing a visitor center.
His alternative proposal would place the center further back from Chicago Avenue, behind the residential buildings in question. The alternative visitor center would have a smaller footprint – about 9,000 square feet for the existing proposal and roughly 7,600 square feet for the alternative proposal – than the one proposed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
Harding said he opposes the proposal to demolish the home at 925 Chicago – one of the oldest structures in the village – and remove some additions to the 931 Chicago building – once lived in by Wright's mother Anna Lloyd Wright – also because of the precedent such demolitions would set for other proposed demolitions in historic districts in Oak Park.
"It blows apart the Oak Park Historic Preservation Ordinance," he said, noting that such demolitions are typically only approved if the building is in disrepair or imposes a financial burden on the owner. "It's such a terrible precedent, and other people will use that precedent."
He said allowing one entity to demolish and alter homes in the historic district and not others would result in lawsuits against the village.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust released a statement in response to the alternative proposal, calling it unacceptable.
"The proposal distributed to the porches of neighborhood homes by a local architect was unsolicited and unauthorized," the trust noted. "From the outset, the trust worked with a selected group of some of the most highly respected architects in Chicago, who were given critical information about the project's goal and operational requirements.
"This proposal does not address the myriad of our considerations and proper context and does not provide an acceptable alternative to our carefully considered plan."
Harding said he and a group of architects and concerned interests met with officials at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust and presented Harding's alternative proposal, but it is uncertain whether the plan gained any traction.
In a letter sent to neighbors of the home and studio, Harding argues that the legacy of the site where the homes in question and Wright's studio now stand would be altered to the extent that it would "create a false history that never existed in Wright's time."
Harding is encouraging stakeholders to turn out for the upcoming Historic Preservation Commission. Meanwhile, the local political group VOICE of Oak Park also is calling on its members to show up to the meeting to oppose the trust's plan.
"Oak Park's Historic Preservation Commission has denied past applications to demolish contributing properties," VOICE's Josh Klayman wrote in a Facebook post. "It has no grounds for making an exception for 925 Chicago Avenue—an exception that would open the door to other such demolitions and make a mockery of a Historic Preservation Ordinance that has served the village well since 1972."
Klayman said in a telephone interview that many of the VOICE members are unhappy with the design proposed by the trust, but the bigger issue is the precedent set by the teardown.
"If the Frank Lloyd Wright people can say, "We need that space to build one of these because it would be good for us," what precedent does that set?" Klayman asked.
Answer Book 2019
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