Dallas isn’t the only city where historic preservation is tested, as a Frank Lloyd Wright homeowner seeks demolition.
It’s been a bad couple of years for Wright fans, as a medical clinic in Montana was demolished last year and now a progenitor of Wright’s Usonian homes is on the same path. These are pretty rare events. Prior to these two, the last Wright structure torn down was a beach house in Grand Beach, Michigan, back in 2004 and that was the first since 1973.
The cottage at 239 Franklin Road in suburban Glencoe was built in 1913 as a temporary home for Sherman Booth and his wife while Wright built their larger home. Booth was Wright’s lawyer. The home is a modest 1,755-square-foot, three-bedroom with two full and one-half bathroom. Originally, the cottage was just 1,100 square feet, but later owners added a garage and bedrooms. After the main home was built in 1915, the cottage was moved to its current location.
The cottage had been the home of the Rudoff family since 1956 and was listed for sale in 2017 for $1 million with subsequent drops until it hit $599,900 in January 2019 – essentially lot value. After 63 years with the same owner, the home was well lived-in with a lot of updating required. While the sellers had hoped for a conservation-minded buyer, instead they got Jean Jingnan Yang and Justin Jun Lu who quickly filed for a demolition permit after the May 9 closing.
Local building codes allow for a home up to 4,322 square feet on the lot, making a McMansion the likely outcome reflecting the size of neighboring properties.
It’s proof that “honorary landmark” status – which the home has had since 1996 – is generally meaningless. The Village of Glencoe has no way of stopping the demolition, saying “Our hands are tied.” Eight days before the sale, Landmarks Illinois had listed the property as “endangered” in their annual listing – in large part because of the lowered listing price. It’s worth noting that the other “endangered” Glencoe property has recently sold to a developer who plans to demolish the 12-acre estate with the Tudor-style home of vacuum cleaner pioneer H.E. Hoover to make way for 29 new homes.
The cottage is important as a step in Wright’s design evolution that led to his Usonian vision. That design language is one of the catalysts of the ranch-style trend that overtook the nation post-World War II. Usonian homes were modest, middle-class homes with flat roofs, large overhangs and plenty of windows – these had the dual benefit of bringing light into the home but also helping with passive heating and cooling.
That you can see these elements in the cottage in 1913 when Wright’s “first” Usonian home didn’t arrive until the mid-1930s shows the progression of Wright’s thinking. Even though just 60 Usonian homes were constructed (Wright was an accountant’s nightmare), the impact of their design reverberated throughout the country.
Completed in 1958, Dallas’s sprawling John Gillin Residence, while hardly middle-class, is still considered one of Wright’s later Usonian homes – and Dallas’ only Wright home. (Douglas Newby has some great pics of the home here.)
A glimmer of hope exists for the cottage as representatives from the village and its historic preservation commission along with people from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy met with one of the new owners to discuss options. These included relocating the home on the current site to enable the couple to build a larger home or moving the cottage to an entirely new location. The village described the meeting as “positive and productive”. We’ll see. Being a recognized property, demolition is automatically delayed for 180-days from the completion of the demolition application.
The Other Booth Home
While the Booths lived in the modest cottage, Wright was at work on their five-bedroom home situated on three-quarters of an acre. Located at 265 Sylvan Road in Glencoe, it too is for sale for $1.150 million. On and off the market since 2016, it’s another example of a Frank Lloyd Wright home that in decades past would have been quickly sold. We seem to be living in an era where architecturally significant homes attract a smaller and smaller set of buyers. Last year we saw the Coonley Estate, another landmark Chicago Wright whose $1.15 million sale price was barely over the $975,000 paid for the home in 2010 before a $1+ million renovation.
The Booth house is a very well-maintained example of Wright’s work with all the Wright touches you’d expect – leaded glass, expansive spaces and unheard of attention of detail. The entry above is classic Wright with a rather constrained space that leads to the more expansive and dramatic public spaces.
The glass-enclosed living and sunrooms play off the solid mass of the fireplace and signature Wright hearth. Wright even plays up the radiators by extending the mantle to frame as well as absorb the heat to radiate back into the room.
The backside of the entry stairs is this pocket library with another Wright touch of scale. The books are at the perfect height for perusing while seated while the decorative balustrade captured light while providing separation and privacy.
As a renovator, I get it. It’s not always easy to fit today’s living into yesterday’s shell. Wright was very particular in not only his overall design, but in so many very specific details that many find the homes fascinating, but unlivable. What’s different about today is the throw-away society where we get new phones every two years and $25 dollar party outfits we wear once.
Wright may not be the sickness, but his homes appear to be symptomatic of the larger disease of disposability wrought by a generation giving lip service to sustainability.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.