Last June, I wrote about a historic 1913 Frank Lloyd Wright cottage in Glencoe, Illinois, that had been recently purchased by owners who couldn’t wait to file for a demolition permit. The town and the Frank Lloyd Wright world at large were incensed. The town’s historic designation meant little but was able to forestall demolition for 180 days – which expired in November. The town then said they would not issue a demolition permit until the planned 4,200-square-foot McMansion replacement was approved – which were slow-rolled.
On January 23 it was announced a deal was struck between the owners, the Glencoe Park District, and the Glencoe Historical Society to move the cottage to a park a quarter-mile away. The home will be pared back from its currently added-on 1,755 square feet back to its original 1,100 square feet.
The move, which could happen in February, was made possible because of an intense fundraising campaign by the Glencoe Historical Society. But fundraising remains. So far, monies raised will only pay for the move and restoration of the cottage’s exterior.
The park district will lease the land the home will sit on to the historical society for $1 per year. The historical society plans to eventually renovate the interior and use it as a research center and museum.
Ravine Bluffs: Wright’s First Subdivision
In my prior story, I focused on the cottage’s original owners and importance of the cottage in Wright’s evolution towards his Usonian designs. Since then, I’ve learned more about the importance of the Ravine Bluffs area of Glencoe area where it was built.
When one thinks about Wright, the word “subdivision” doesn’t leap to mind. Sure, we know of places like Oak Park, Illinois where there are concentrations of Wright homes, but not actual planned communities. Ravine Bluffs was Wright’s first planned community consisting of 25 homes that came into being because the original large estate planned by Wright attorney Sherman Booth proved too costly (a common ailment for Wright customers).
The plan was to split the original estate parcel into 25 homes which would enable Booth to construct a more modest (but still pretty grand) home. Unfortunately the timing was all wrong with marketing for the community beginning in 1915 just as the US was beginning its march towards World War I. In all, just five homes were built plus three entrance markers and Wright’s only bridge spanning the ravine.
Each of the homes is a riff on Wright’s all-concrete “Fireproof House for $5,000” design (once featured in Ladies Home Journal) which itself was a riff on the American Foursquare design. Wright’s biggest changes were to connect the living and dining rooms (a novelty in 1915) and relocate the staircase to increase the size of the living room. In an odd note, while Wright used this design at least 11 other homes, all were traditional timber frame construction and so not fireproof at all.
In Ravine Bluffs he allowed more customization with additional/different conservatories, patios, entrance halls while retaining the core Foursquare. At an advertised cost of $7,500, the homes were at the pricier end of Glencoe homes of the era which topped out at around $10,000 – both considerably higher than the national average of $3,500 in 1915. And while small by today’s standards, Ravine Bluffs homes were 1,800 square feet compared with the 1915 average of 1,500 square feet.
Today, the five stand in jarring contrast to their uninspired neighbors. On the one hand, what could be build next to a Wright that wouldn’t look hideously out of place? But retro Streamline Moderne and Bauhaus homes of the 1930’s and 1940’s come to mind.
It’s important that the Sherman Booth cottage seems to have been saved from demolition. As temporary housing for Booth while his home and the larger Ravine Bluffs subdivision were being constructed, it tells a unique story. That it is a progenitor of Wright’s Usonian homes which in turn spurred the American ranch home boom years later makes it all the more valuable as a learning tool for architecture students.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.