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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Oak Park, Illinois.]

Frank Lloyd Wright House, Oak Park, Built 1891.

 p209  Architectural Landmark

Not really an old house, although built in the 1890's, the curious, rambling, brick-and‑shingle dwelling at the southeast corner of Forest and Chicago avenues in Oak Park, survives as an important landmark in the evolution of "modern," or twentieth century, domestic architecture. For this house was designed and occupied by Frank Lloyd Wright, now regarded by many as the foremost living American architect.

What makes this house especially interesting is the fact that it was built more than fifty years ago, or at a time when architecture was still in an imitative stage, copying Gothic castles, Renaissance palaces, and Romanesque strongholds. In this house we see the beginnings of Wright's unique method of design, a design that helped to bring about rise of what the public calls "modern" architecture but which architects identify as the "international" style.

In designing his Oak Park home, Frank Lloyd Wright broke with tradition and created a dwelling whose form was determined, not by any French chateau or Viennese palace, but by its function — in this case, a place in which to live in a modern manner. It was, in fact, the first of his series of houses "designed for living." Several of these still stand on Forest Avenue, in the vicinity of the original Wright home, and have made Oak Park a mecca for architectural historians.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1869, at Richland Center, Wisconsin. His father, William, was a traveling musician, who later became a preacher, and his mother, the former Anna Lloyd-Jones, was a school teacher. After attending the public schools and studying engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Wright left college without completing his courses and went to Chicago. This was in 1888, and soon he had obtained employment in the office of Adler and Sullivan, two of the city's leading architects of the 1880's and 1890's.

It was during his Adler-and‑Sullivan period that Wright married Catherine Tobin, a Chicago girl, who was nineteen at the time, while he was twenty-one. And, in 1891, shortly after his marriage, Wright built his Oak Park house. In his autobiography he says that building this home was made possible by a substantial advance on his salary given him by his employer, Sullivan. In 1893 Wright left the partners to begin his career as an independent architect, a career that was to bring him world-wide fame.

In the years when they were living in their Oak Park house, a dwelling that was part home and part architect's studio, the Wrights became  p211 the parents of six children. Some idea of what life was like in this household may be gained from Wright's autobiography, which was published in 1932. In it we learn of the children and of how the father gave them musical instruments to play, how the family owed a grocery bill of $850, and of Wright's interest in books, prints, rugs, and handicraft articles. We are told, also, of the old willow tree around which a corridor was built connecting the main part of the house with the studio.

The Wrights lived in this house for nineteen years. Then in 1911, after being divorced from his wife, Wright built a country house at Spring Green, Wisconsin, near his boyhood home, and here he has lived since. Called "Taliesin," the place has become widely known because of its architecture and as a school for architectural students.

After Wright left his Oak Park house, it was occupied for some years by his divorced wife and his children and subsequently was purchased by Alfred MacArthur, a Chicago insurance executive, patron of the arts, and friend of Wright's. Here, too, came to live MacArthur's brother, Charles, who was then a Chicago newspaperman. He afterwards became a playwright, scenario writer, husband of Helen Hayes, and collaborator with Ben Hecht in the writing of The Front Page and other Broadway plays and Hollywood movies.

Wright was still somewhat under the influence of conventional architecture when he designed his Oak Park house. This is evidenced by the gabled roof. He had not then achieved the flat, or low-pitched roof which marks typical Frank Lloyd Wright houses of today. Aside from the roof, however, the Oak Park house contains all of the characteristics of Wright's method of design — horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, simplicity of trim, and rows of windows.

On visiting the interior, one is surprised at the "modern" features of the rooms and that such "modernism" was created in an age of late Victorian gilt, decoration, and trim. Here, the ceilings are simple and low and leaded glass windows of plain design let in the daylight. The opening of the great brick fireplace is sunk below the floor and there is no overmantel. The house does not contain a basement. The studio, where Wright first conceived buildings that were to make architectural history, is lighted by large north and east windows.

In this house architectural students may see the latest phase of domestic architecture in Illinois during the nineteenth century, a manifestation that pointed the way to twentieth century house design. And in the same state of Illinois, as was pointed out at the beginning of this book one may find the earliest phase of permanent shelter construction — the Saucier log house at Cahokia.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07