A Squared: City Walk #33: Oak Park - Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, July 18, 2013

City Walk #33: Oak Park - Frank Lloyd Wright

City Walk posts have been few and far between here at A Squared-- probably because the last several months haven't really been nice walking weather. The weather has really warmed up lately though, so Alex and I jumped on the chance to do some exploring and spend the day outside in the (super muggy) sunshine.

As I have mentioned here before, Alex and I are both architects. He still practices and while I work in real estate now, I still appreciate the craft and love visiting the buildings that I studied in college in person. So, for this Walk we figured it was about time that we took the Green Line out to Oak Park (a near western suburb of Chicago) for an afternoon of architecture appreciation.

Renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright began his architectural career in Oak Park, so the suburb (and the city of Chicago) are full of examples of his famous works.  If you are interested in checking out some of these buildings, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust does an excellent job of organizing and hosting tours-- both in Oak Park and in the city at the Robie House and the Rookery (where we got married).

After arriving in Oak Park and wandering their adorable little downtown (how did I not know how cute this place is?) we arrived at our first stop to find that-- surprise!-- they have moved. This first stop was the Oak Park Visitor's Center [1]. Luckily, this was the only location on the Walk that had relocated because let's face it, you can't move a protected historic FLW home.

Moving on, we walked north on Forest Avenue, a picturesque residential street where every other home seems to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or designed to look like it was. The next five stops actually were all homes designed by FLW. As the City Walk card mentions, it is very easy to identify FLW's work like the Frank W. Thomas House - 210 [2] and the Peter A. Beachy House - 238 [3] Forest Avenue against the more traditional Victorian homes on the block. These homes are both representative of Wright's low and flat Prairie style of architecture.

Wright designed several other homes on this street too including the Edward R. Hills House - 313 [4], the Arthuer Heurtley House - 318 [5], and the Nathan Moore House - 333 [6] Forest Avenue. The Moore House is less Prairie style and more Tudor, designed that way at the request of Mr. Moore.

At the end of Forest Ave. (at Forest and Chicago) is Frank Lloyd Wright's Home & Studio [7]. We actually had a LivingSocial deal to take a tour of the property with the FLWPT and used it that day for an interior tour. As an architecture nerd and also after recently reading Loving Frank (have you read it? A very interesting book about FLW and his affair/relationship with the wife of a client-- you can see her home on the Oak Park walking tours too), I was really excited for a little peak into Mr. Wright's life and the tour was just that.

Our guide described the home and studio as FLW's "laboratory," as he built several additions on to the house over the years and tried out new construction methods and design styles so that the property is a bit of a hodgepodge of his work now. The tour was really interesting and the hour went by in a flash. I'd highly recommend it! And speaking of flashes, I don't have any interior photos to share with you as you have to pay a fee to take photographs of the interior. You can check out a few photos here though.

And check out the photo below -- that's FLW's original sign outside of his studio.

The next three stops on Chicago Avenue were a few more homes designed by FLW. 1019, 1027, and the Walter H. Gale House - 1031 [8 -- below] Chicago Avenue are a departure from Wright's more iconic work. The homes are three of his earlier works in the more traditional Queen Anne style-- before Wright came into his own and revolutionized American architecture with the Prairie style of design.

After the walking and the tour, we were a little hungry but still had a few more stops on the Walk. We spotted an adorable old fashioned ice cream parlor down the street from the Home & Studio and stopped in for a treat. Petersen's had a lot of the "Midwest" ice cream flavors you can only find at these local ice cream spots-- I had a Mackinac Island Fudge shake and my mature hubby ordered a waffle bowl of Superman ice cream with gummy worms. If you are unfamiliar with Superman ice cream, it's a Michigan favorite and is basically a collection of fruity flavors in a swirl of yellow, red, and blue ice cream.

Following our ice cream detour, we walked down N. Euclid Avenue to see the final three of Frank Lloyd Wright's Oak Park homes on the City Walk. 321 N. Euclid [9 -- below] was actually designed by famed architects Burnham & Root and then FLW was later hired by Charles Roberts to remodel it. 317 was right next door and I am obsessed with it. It's a former barn that was transformed by Wright into the Charles E. Roberts Stable House. Isn't so cute? Like a little garden cottage tucked away in the middle of Oak Park. The final house on the tour was 223 N. Euclid [10 -- below], the George Furbeck House. You can look at this home and see how Wright's work started to transition into the Prairie Style.

We finished the Walk at the Unity Temple [11], which was Frank Lloyd Wright's first public commissioned project and one of his most famous. The Unity Temple offers a self guided tour of the interior spaces, which was nice for us because we could wander at our own pace and snap photos.


If you're an architect or just someone who appreciates art and architecture, Oak Park and the various tours offered through the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust are something you should definitely check out.

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