Wright Furniture: Oak Armchair, Frank Lloyd Wright circa 1908

Posted by George Pudlo on March 14, 2012 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)


Frank Lloyd Wright designed this oak armchair for the Raymond Evans House in Chicago, Illinois circa 1908. Wright would commonly use wooden screens in his design, as seen in this example.

Midway Gardens, Frank Lloyd Wright 1914

Posted by George Pudlo on December 25, 2011 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05124r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05121r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The Midway Gardens is a lost treasure in Chicago's long list of demolished buildings. The Midway Gardens was built in the prime of Frank Lloyd Wright's career. He was settled in at his Taliesin home with his mistress Mameh Cheney in Wisconsin, but commuted weekly to Chicago for work. The commission for the Midway Gardens came from Ed Waller, an old friend and client of Wright's. The concept was for a beer garden and concert hall for the upper middle class leisure goer. It was to be designed in the material of concrete, cast, with strong Asian influence. Frank Lloyd Wright collaborated with sculptor Alfonso Ianelli to magically bring the concrete to life. The famous sprite sculptures were designed for this work.

The Midway Gardens came to fantastical fruition in the summer of 1914, and opened to the public on July 27, 1914, while the complex was still partially under construction. It received outstanding praise from critic Harriet Monroe. However, for Wright, the glory of the Midway Gardens was short lived. Less than one month after the Midway Gardens opened, Wright received word of the Taliesin Tragedy while he was finishing up the Gardens, on August 14th, 1914. 

The Midway Gardens was a popular attraction in its first several years. But by the 1920's, prohibition severely strained business. It changed ownership and names twice, the Edelweiss Gardens became the Midway Dancing Gardens, before it was demolished in 1929. 

The story goes that the demolition company went bankrupt trying to dismantle the Midway Gardens and subsequently dumped a vast amount of Midway refuse into Lake Michigan. The Midway Gardens was located on the corner of Cottage Grove and 60th, named for the Midway Plaisance from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05125r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


     Cast concrete tile preserved from Midway Gardens


Dismembered head of Sprite sculpture

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and the Auditorium Building

Posted by George Pudlo on December 22, 2011 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Auditorium Building (now Roosevelt University)

50 E Congress Parkway

Chicago, IL 60605

The first major architectural project that Frank Lloyd Wright worked on was the Auditorium Building. There should be no confusion that the building officially belongs to the firm of Adler & Sullivan, however, this was the project Louis Sullivan initially hired Frank Lloyd Wright for. The Auditorium was well under way when Sullivan hired Frank Lloyd Wright in 1887 as a draftsman, and undoubtedly could have and would have gone up without Wright. It was one of the largest cultural undertakings the city had seen, and one of the first multi use building the nation had seen. The primary function of the Auditorium, as the name implies, was its theater.

The conception of Chicago's Auditorium Building dates back to 1885 when the Old Exposition Building, previously located on the land that now accommodates the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park, hosted a wildly successful Opera Festival. Ferdinand Peck, who was one of Chicago's leading real estate developers in the 19th century, envisioned a massive, permanent theater that would trump the 3,800 seat Metropolitan Opera House in New York City by nearly 1,200 hundred seats. The final seat count of the Auditorium theatre in Chicago would be 4, 237. Ferdinand Peck, though, was not oblivious to the fact that it wouldn't be easy to sustain a 4,000 plus seat theatre. Thus, the idea of a multi-use building was born. A commercial aspect of the Auditorium Building would help subsidize the cultural aspect, the theatre itself, and the Auditorium Building became one of the first large scale, multi use buildings in America, housing not only a theatre, but commercial office space and a hotel as well.

Peck selected Adler & Sullivan as the architecture firm to build the Auditorium because of Dankmar Adler's reputation as a superb acoustical engineer. When the building was completed, it boasted perfect sound. Louis Sullivan, Adler's partner, was responsible for the design of the building itself including the interior ornamentation. At the same time Adler & Sullivan were preparing plans for the design of the Auditorium Building, a young architect by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright was looking for a job, and after presenting detailed ornamentation modeled after Sullivan's own ornament, he was given a job. Thus began the professional relationship of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright would eventually be credited with detailing much of the ornament for the Auditorium Building, though the initial sketches and ornamental conceptions are attributed to Louis Sullivan.

For the exterior of the building, two preliminary designs were completed by Louis Sullivan, before the final design of the Auditorium came to fruition. The first design was that of a Gothic nature, and the second a more highly stylized, ornamented building that Sullivan would strip down for the modern Auditorium. It is said that John Root, upon learning of Adler & Sullivan's commission for the building, proclaimed Sullivan would "smear another facade with ornament". Sullivan may have taken this to heart, and the final design was highly influenced by the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, who had recently completed the John Glessner House and the Marshall Field Wholesale Store. These two buildings by H H Richardson were cutting edge in that they were void of historical ornament. Sullivan went above and beyond Richardson's style with the Auditorium, presenting an evolved version of a Richardsonian Romanesque structure. The exterior of the Auditorium is monumental in its solidity. The base is made of rough faced granite and marked with a series of massive arches for the entryways. The upper portion is Indiana Limestone with a smooth ashlar finish. There are arched windows above the base, and smaller arched windows above those that carry the eye upward and lend a vertical illusion to the building. Louis Sullivan’s signature ornamental features are primarily on the interior of the Auditorium Building, with the exterior relatively unadorned.

The Auditorium Building took three years to construct. In March of 1888, though the building was unfinished, the theatre was completed to host the Republican National Convention where Benjamin Harrison was nominated for president. On December 9th, 1889, President Harrison dedicated the Auditorium Building in Chicago. The final cost for the structure was more than $3,000,000. The office tower of the Auditorium, reaching seventeen stories, was the highest point in Chicago at that time. Adler & Sullivan, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright, when he was employed by the firm, both had offices at the top of the tower. The Auditorium Hotel faced the Michigan Avenue and Congress Street facades of the Auditorium Building. The Auditorium Hotel restaurant was the most fashionable restaurant in town, situated on the tenth floor of the Auditorium Building facing Michigan Avenue and Grant Park. The Auditorium theatre was shelled in on all sides by the hotel rooms and offices. The Auditorium theater was remarkable in both its appearance, perfected by Louis Sullivan, and its acoustics, perfected by Dankmar Adler. Frank Lloyd Wright later said of the Auditorium: “It was acknowledged to be the greatest building achievement of the period: and to this day, probably, is the best room for opera, all things considered, yet built in the world.”


Frank Lloyd Wright and the Fine Arts Building

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2011 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The Fine Arts Building is one of the oldest standing high rises in Chicago, built in 1885 by Solon S Beman. The building was originally designed as the Studebaker Building, where the young Studebaker company, later known for their cars, opened an office in Chicago for the purpose of showcasing and manufacturing their carriages. The windows of the first several floors of the building are quite large for the time period, as their function was to display the carriages. By 1898, the Studebakers has outgrown the building, but instead of selling the building, they were persuaded to convert it into the first artist colony of its kind in Chicago: The Fine Arts Building. To this day, the Fine Arts Building is still dedicated to the arts.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s first foray in the Fine Arts Building was a commission that came from Francis Fisher Browne for a bookstore that became known as Browne’s Bookstore. Wright and Browne would have met through their mutual membership of the Caxton Club of Chicago. According to the Caxton Club’s website, this progressive literary club maintained private clubrooms in the Fine Arts Building from 1899-1918. They formed to publish books in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, of which Wright was tightly associated. Browne’s Bookstore opened in 1907, and was fully designed by Wright with furnishings and bookshelves. Unfortunately, the store only remained open for five years before it was dismembered. Some of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed chairs found their way to the Unity Temple and can be seen today. Browne’s Bookstore was located in studio 706, currently occupied by architects Vincent Lynn & Lee. The Caxton Club of Chicago remains alive to this day, based out of the Newberry Library.

Frank Lloyd Wright further entwined himself with the Fine Arts Building by opening up an office in the building. Wright occupied Studio 1020 of the Fine Arts Building for his architectural practice in 1908 and 1910-1911. Though he had his own in-home studio, the Frank Lloyd Wright Studio in Oak Park, Wright likely took up this space in the Fine Arts Building because of escalating marital tensions with his wife Kitty. It would be in late 1909 that Wright abandoned his wife and six children and moved to Europe for a year with his mistress Mamah Cheney to publish the Wasmuth Portfolio. Wright reoccupied Studio 1020 of the Fine Arts Building after his European retreat was over in 1910, likely as a transitional space before fully moving his practice to Taliesin in 1911. During this second phase of practice at the Fine Arts Building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Studio would have been under construction as he was converting it into living quarters for his family. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Home was then under conversion into two rentable apartments to subsidize the living costs of his family that he was leaving behind for Mamah.

In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the W. Scott Thurber Art Gallery, sometimes shortened to the Thurber Art Gallery. This must have been one of his final projects before moving to Europe in October of 1909. The gallery was located on the fifth floor of the Fine Arts Building Annex, attached to the north side of the Fine Arts Building in 1891. Though the Fine Arts Building is ten stories, the annex is only five. Thus, Wright took the opportunity to build art glass skylights into the roof of the Thurber Art Gallery. Nothing remains of the Thurber Art Gallery today, as it moved out of the Fine Arts Building in 1917. Today, the fifth floor of the Fine Arts Building Annex is occupied by William Harris Lee & Co., makers of hand crafted violins, violas, and cellos.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s final commission in the Fine Arts Building was for the Mori Oriental Art Studio, located in Studio 801. This was the largest of Wright’s projects in the Fine Arts Building, and he most likely took great joy in its design being that he was a collector of fine Japanese woodblock prints. Unfortunately, no photographs of the Mori Oriental Art Studio survive. The former Mori Oriental Art Studio is now occupied by the violin-centric Elizabeth Stein Company.

In the hallway of the second floor of the Fine Arts Building, a beautiful art glass window hangs. It is the only tangible remnant of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Chicago’s first artist colony. This was salvaged from the space he occupied in Studio 1020, and was likely a skylight.

JJ Walser House, Frank Lloyd Wright 1903

Posted by George Pudlo on April 19, 2011 at 6:09 PM Comments comments (1)

JJ Walser House

42 N Central Avenue

Chicago, IL 60644

The JJ Walser House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1903. It is a Prairie Style House located on the west side of Chicago. The JJ Walser House is currently in very poor condition, despite being a Chicago Landmark. The house is barely noticeable on busy Central Avenue because it is set back on the lot (very common for Frank Lloyd Wright) and now crammed between two large apartment buildings that tower over it and take away from the JJ Walser House's character. It has most of the exterior features that Wright would employ in his Prairie Houses - a low hipped roof with overhanging eaves that grounds the building into the earth; bands of casement windows; stucco exterior; concrete water table; and flanking wings. The chimney is not centrally located on the house as was common for Wright. Art glass windows that originally covered the house were removed long ago and sold to help save the structure.

Waller Apartments, Frank Lloyd Wright 1895

Posted by George Pudlo on April 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Waller Apartments

2840-2858 W Walnut Street

Chicago, IL 60612

The Waller Apartments  designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on the west side of Chicago are another sad story. A collection of five connected apartment buildings made up the Waller Apartments. There are currently only four buildings standing, as the second apartment building from left to right was destroyed by a fire in the 1960's. It is still an empty lot where the apartment building once stood, and subsequently takes away from the unity designated by the row of Frank Lloyd Wright apartment buildings. Each of the five Waller Apartments buildings was divided into four units, but have since been divided into two townhouses each. 

An interesting feature of the buildings as they stand today is that portions of the buildings have been cleaned, revealing the intense yellow color of the bricks, while other portions of the buildings remain buried under decades of dirt. It is so dramatic that it looks like different colored bricks were used for each of the units, while they are actually all of a uniform color. Floral ornament on the exterior of the building points to Frank Lloyd Wright's influence from his previous employer Louis Sullivan. The Waller Apartments were built approximately two years after Wright was dismissed from Sullivan's firm.

Fortunately the Waller Apartments is a Chicago Landmark, meaning they are protected from demolition. However, a Chicago Landmark is only required to maintain its appearance according to the year it was Landmarked -not the year it was built. A Chicago Landmark plaque in the ground in front of the Waller Apartments reads:

"Commissioned by prominent real estate developer Edward Carson Waller to meet the demand for affordable housing, these apartments are considered among the earliest examples of subsidized housing in Chicago. The simplified design of the facade indicates the young architect's departure from traditional design toward the abstract, modern principles for which he was later internationally known." Designated on March 2, 1994.

E-Z Polish Factory, Frank Lloyd Wright 1905

Posted by George Pudlo on April 19, 2011 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (1)

E-Z Polish Factory

3005 W Carroll Avenue

Chicago, IL 60612

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the EZ Polish Factory in 1905. It is a rare example of a commercial structure designed in the Prairie Style by Frank Lloyd Wright. The commission for the EZ Polish Factory resulted from Wright's relationship with William Martin, for who he built the William Martin House in Oak Park in 1903. The commission for the William Martin House would lead to the commissioning of a house for William's brother, Darwin, as well as three other houses in Buffalo, New York. More importantly would be the commission for the Larkin Building -Wright's first large scale (and incredibly modern) commercial project that would launch his reputation as a serious architect. After the commission for the Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York, would come the commission for the EZ Polish Factory in Chicago. William Martin and his brother Darwin were partners in the Martin and Martin Stove Polish company. 

The EZ Polish Factory is currently in unhealthy condition. Parts of the exterior facade are crumbling, and the building has been altered from its original condition.  Air conditioners puncture the facade, as well as a series of windows that are not original. The EZ Polish Factory may have been a joy for Wright to design as he disliked windows and doors and considered them unsightly holes punched into his structures.

The building is structurally supported by steel reinforced concrete and faced in brick. It is no longer used for its original purpose of manufacturing shoe and stove polish. Despite being in poor condition, the EZ Polish Factory still has a modern exterior. Unlike the Abraham Lincoln Center that features a relatively flat facade, the EZ Polish Factory has clearly defined horizontal spandrels recessed behind vertical piers. Although the vertical piers are expressed on top of the spandrels, the building maintains a horizontal appearance in line with the Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright.

George Blossom House, Frank Lloyd Wright 1892

Posted by George Pudlo on March 13, 2011 at 11:46 PM Comments comments (0)

Located in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, the George Blossom House is one of Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest designs completed in 1892. The George Blossom House is also one of the bootleg houses that Frank Lloyd Wright completed while still employed with the firm of Adler & Sullivan. It is one house south of the Warren MacArthur House, another of Frank Lloyd Wright's bootleg homes. The juxtaposition of these two 1892 Frank Lloyd Wright Homes is incredible, as the viewer, even if he was not a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, would conclude that the two home were not created by the same architect because of how vastly different they are.

The George Blossom House is unlike any other of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs. Sometimes declared Dutch Colonial, Neoclassical, or Palladian,  the George Blossom House also has undertones of a Prairie Style Home. It could even be considered a very early Prairie Home. Though the ornament of the structure points to a home of European influence (and simultaneously demonstrates Wright's ability to build in the European tradition despite his negative attitude toward doing so), the general massing of the house points to the Prairie Style. The formation of the front of the house looks similar to that of the Winslow House, though without the frieze of ornament beneath the roofline. The George Blossom House has a low hipped roof with overhanging eaves that would be seen in Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style Houses nearly a decade later. 

The house is beautiful, though it looks fragile and could certainly use a little work. The front porch looks dangerously decayed and the wooden spindles of the side porch are so warped they are nearly touching each other, but there is a certain beauty in this. The George Blossom House sits on a corner lot, so when walking around the side of the house, one can see that the back of the house differs from the front in its massing -it has a rounded bay that pushes out of the back of the home. The detailing in the window-work is pristine. 

Frank Lloyd Wright would later build a detached garage behind the George Blossom House that is designed in full Prairie Style. It mimics the general massing of the actual home, but is stripped of historic influence. The low hipped roof and overextending eaves match the home, and the additional use of yellow Roman bricks, ribbons of windows,  and general formation make the house Prairie Style. 

Warren McArthur House, Frank Lloyd Wright 1892

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (1)

Warren McArthur House, 1892
4852 S Kenwood, Chicago IL

The George Blossom House’s next door neighbor, the Warren McArthur House, similarly blends historic similes with common characteristics of Wright’s early work. Described primarily as Dutch Colonial, the Warren McArthur House has a gambrel roof that lends it a barn like appearance. The house is situated sideways on the lot, with the main entrance and wider massing of the home facing the George Blossom House next door. Arches in the porch facing the street point to the influence of Louis Sullivan, as does the arched window in the attic. Dormer windows point backward to the Queen Anne Style, while its detailed corner windows, concrete stylobate, and stucco surface point forward. The rear of the house is conducted in the Shingle Style, as seen in Frank Lloyd Wright’s own Home & Studio in Oak Park, and influenced by his first employer, Joseph Silsbee. Both the George Blossom and Warren McArthur Houses make use of Roman brick, Wright’s preferred brick. Wright and McArthur were friends.

Raymond W Evans House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 12:38 AM Comments comments (3)

Raymond W Evans House -A Fireproof House for $5,000, 1908

S A Foster House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1900

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

S A Foster House, 1900
12147 S Harvard, Chicago IL

The Stephen A Foster House is an unusual design of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, located on the far south side of Chicago. This would have been one of Wright’s last experimental houses before the Prairie houses evolved. Wright demonstrated several designs, much more modern, in the years leading up to the Foster House. The upward sloping roofs give the house a ship like appearance, and an essence of Japanese inspiration is detected. Overhanging roof eaves and Gothic gables make reference to Wright, as well as the vertically oriented wooden screens.

The Stephen A Foster House is a Chicago Landmark.

Rookery Building Lobby, Frank Lloyd Wright 1905

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (1)

The Rookery Building Lobby Renovation 1905
209 S LaSalle, Chicago IL

The Rookery Building is one of Chicago’s most historic structures. Built in 1886, the Rookery was designed by Burnham & Root; one of Chicago’s most prominent architectural firms. The firm was also responsible for the master plan of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. By 1905, the lobby of the building was due for a remodel and Wright transformed it into modern elegance. The lobby of the Rookery is unlike any of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other interiors. It almost seems a little too pristine and opulent to be a work of Wright’s, but nonetheless maintains characteristic features of Wright’s work in the first decade of the 20th Century.

The lobby was originally floored with hand cut, mosaic tiles that Wright covered with Carrera marble, the same marble Michelangelo used for many of his sculptures. The Carrera marble floor has recently been removed to expose the original tiling, but the Carrera marble trim around the lobby remains intact, as well as the Carrera marble coverings on the columns. A marble slab has been removed to expose one of the original cast iron columns designed by John Root.

The light fixtures are very Wrightian: globes enclosed by squares to offer a horizontal pull. The planters at the foot of the stairwell are similar: half globes enclosed by squares. There is a strong sense of geometry replicated in the glass and iron atrium. The cast iron detailing of the stairwells and parapets is comparable to Art Nouveau.

One of Wright’s employees, William Drummond, would later alter the lobby again in 1931. Drummond removed the ground floor stairs across from the existing stairs. He also gave the elevators an Art Deco facelift. The Rookery is now an incredibly well thought blend of styles. Both Frank Lloyd Wright and Burnham & Root had offices in this building.


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