Recently, I had the chance to take a guided bicycle tour of Oak Park, the Chicago suburb where Frank Lloyd Wright lived and practiced for a number of years. The 2-hour tour includes 22 structures designed or renovated by Wright, scattered throughout the town.
We began with some examples of his early “bootlegged” houses, like the 1892 Queen Anne Thomas Gale House, which Wright designed on his own time to supplement his income while employed by Adler & Sullivan. As his contract forbade outside commissions, this ended his employment at the firm [whether Wright quit or was fired is a matter of some debate]:
Next door is another bootleg, the grander Queen Anne Walter Gale House, erected in 1893:
The 1909 Laura Gale House [notice a pattern of patrons?]:
The Arthur Heurtley House, 1902, is an early example of Wright’s mature Prairie School style, with a strong emphasis on horizontality:
The 1902 William E. Martin House [click the link for interior photos from when this home was on the market a few years ago]:
The Rollin Furbeck House, built in 1897, features a 3-story central tower and cruciform-pinwheel layout:
The Oscar Balch House, built in 1911 is one of Wright’s earliest flat-roofed homes, designed right after he returned from an extended trip to Europe:
My favorite of the bunch is this cutie-patootie, the 1897 George Furbeck House. As an example of Wright’s transition into what became his famous Prairie style, it’s far from the most significant structure in Oak Park, but I love the compact, symmetrical footprint [and check out the interior]:
When I was in high school and planning to study architecture in college, I visited Fallingwater, an experience I don’t think I fully appreciated until years later. I’ve also toured Wright’s Hollyhock House in LA and, more recently, the Westcott House in Springfield, OH:
What’s unique about Oak Park, and why I was glad to take this broader tour, is seeing many examples of Wright’s work over the years, in the context of a then-developing town, as opposed to focusing on one building in isolation. The tradeoff, of course, is that an overview of his Oak Park practice doesn’t allow for close examination of any single structure.
Indeed, most of the homes on this tour are privately owned and open for tours only once a year. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives led in these homes, from the Sunday paper waiting to be picked up by the front door to the bird house and other bits of non-period-appropriate exterior decoration. These are homes, not museums.
The next tour of the privately owned homes will be 16 May 2015. Even aside from that rare privilege, Oak Park is definitely worth a visit, and I highly recommend the guided tours.