Susan Lawrence Dana House, Frank Lloyd Wright 1904

Posted by George Pudlo on October 4, 2012 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)


The Susan Lawrence Dana House is located in Springfield, Illinois and is one of Wright's largest prairie houses at 12,000 square feet.  Susan Lawrence Dana, a young and wealthy widow, commissioned Wright to remodel her family's Italianate mansion in 1902. 

Completed in 1904, Wright built an entirely new house around the existing structure, and now contains 35 rooms spread over three floors of sixteen varying levels. Hundreds of art glass windows modeled after sumacs enclose the house and provide for decorative lamps and fixtures. Low ceilings give way to dramatic expressions of space all through out. 

Susan Lawrence Dana was a proud hostess, and had Wright design the house with plenty of social areas and a dance hall. The dining room table can be extended to accommodate forty people. 

An unusual feature of the building is the basement. Wright rarely designed basements for his Prairie Houses, but the original house had one and Wright converted it into a game room. Skylights allow natural light to fill the basement -perfect for using the bowling alley the Frank Lloyd Wright designed for it.

Dana lived in her Wright designed house until 1928, and owned the house until 1944 when it was auctioned. She died two years later. The house is now called the Dana-Thomas House, as it was purchased by Thomas Publishing which used the building for offices into the 1980's. The State of Illinois purchased the building in 1981, and under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the Dana-Thomas house became a Historic Site and has been fully restored.

Tours of the Dana-Thomas House are conducted on a regular basis, guided by docents from the Dana Thomas House Foundation. 


Bonus: The house is allegedly haunted by Susan Lawrence Dana's spinster sister, and poltergeist activity is frequently reported.

Fabyan Villa and the Eccentric Riverbank Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907

Posted by George Pudlo on January 13, 2012 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (1)

Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Front View

Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Detail

Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Rear View

Fabyan Villa Windmill

Fabyan Villa Bear Cage

Fabyan Villa

1511 S Batavia Road

Geneva, IL 60134

One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser known buildings turned house museum is the George Fabyan Villa in Geneva, Illinois. Located on more than 200 acres along the Fox River, this incredible site is full of whimsy and ruins. Previously owned as a private estate, the Fabyan Villa is now operated by the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.

Colonel George Fabyan was born in 1867, the same year as Wright. Fabyan was a millionaire, whose fortune he acquired from his father’s successful cotton business. In 1905, George Fabyan and his wife Nelle acquired a mid 19th century farmhouse on more than 300 acres of land, and they dubbed their estate “Riverbank”. Initially used as a retreat from their Chicago home, Fabyan commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to extensively remodel the farmhouse in 1907, at which point the Fabyan’s made Riverbank their permanent home. Wright also designed a country club on the estate, which later burned to the ground.

Frank Lloyd Wright completely transformed the original farmhouse into a charming villa with Prairie motifs. Though not considered to be a fully mature Prairie House, the Fabyan Villa carries many of the typical Wright characteristics of his early 20th century work. The floor plan was modified so that the Fabyan Villa now has a semi cruciform layout. The cross gabled roof is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s own Oak Park home. Broad overhanging roof eaves articulate the roof and provide shelter to the windows beneath. A combination of materials was used in Wright’s remodeling of the Fabyan Villa, including concrete, wood, brick , and plaster. Concrete pylons support the terraces, while wooden screens surround them. Bands of geometric windows allow for maximum light efficiency. Overall the Fabyan Villa conveys a sense of shelter and a positive relationship to its natural site.

The Fabyan Villa sinks into the earth near the top of a very long, low grade hill that terminates at the Fox River and overlooks the estate. Walking down the hill, one knows not where to begin. Just below the Fabyan Villa and off to the side are ruins of a once great fountain. On the other side of the hill, below the Villa, is the historic 1910 Japanese Garden designed by Taro Otsuka, containing small, arched bridges, ponds, and a Japanese teahouse. Next to the Japanese Garden is a curious pavilion in the shape of an octogan, with barred windows. Turns out, this used to be the home of the Fabyan’s pet black bears: Mary, Tom, and Jerry. After the bears’ passing, picnic tables were inserted in the cage and its function became a picnic site. Humorously, the bars were not removed, and it still retains a sign that reads “Bear Cage”.

Directly beneath the Villa, a long, open-air tunnel covered in vines brings guests to a rustic gate opening to the Fox River. A questionable concrete bridge allows visitors to cross a manmade cove and continue on to cross the Fox River. There, they are led by peculiar sculptures to a massive windmill that seems fantastically out of context. The Fabyans purchased the windmill in 1914 from a farm in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they had it transferred to Riverbank. The windmill housed a bakery that, according to legend, supposedly made bread for the Fabyan’s bears. The windmill was later honored with a US postage stamp for providing a source of grain for the local community during war-time rationing.

The Fabyan’s lived on this eccentric estate fit for royalty until 1939, at which point the Kane County Forest Preserve purchased most of the estate and turned the Fabyan Villa into a museum. In 1995, the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley took over that role, and continue to operate tours of the home and the estate.


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.

Charles E Roberts House Remodel, Frank Lloyd Wright 1896

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2011 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Charles E Roberts House Remodel, 1896
321 N Euclid Avenue
Oak Park, IL

Frank Lloyd Wright was hired by Charles E Roberts to remodel this house in 1896. Although unremarkable in its features, the house bears much historical significance in the fact that it was originally designed by Burnham and Root in 1879. This is the only house worked on by both of these brilliant architectural sources. The same sequence of architectural design would be seen almost a decade later when Wright remodeled the lobby of Burnham and Root's Rookery Building in 1905. 

Frank Lloyd Wright and Daniel Burnham would have known each other personally by the time of this remodel. In fact, Daniel Burnham had offered Frank Lloyd Wright the deal of a lifetime. 

After Frank Lloyd Wright designed the William Winslow House in River Forest in 1894, Ed Waller, a wealthy developer, admired the house from his own home across the street. Waller invited his good friend Daniel Burnham to a dinner at his River Forest home, along with Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Kitty. This was no ordinary dinner as Frank Lloyd Wright discovered when Waller invited him and Daniel Burnham into his library and locked the door. By this point,  the wildly successful World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 had been over for a year, and Burnham's chief design partner, John Root, had been dead for more than three years. Recognizing Wright's talent, Daniel Burnham offered to send Wright to Paris for four years to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, all expenses paid, followed by two years of study in Rome. As for Wright's family, Burnham would also cover their living expenses while Wright was away. Upon his return, Wright would be Daniel Burnham's new partner. Wright was shocked by the offer. Both flattered and grateful, he declined. Although Wright was no longer with Louis Sullivan's firm, he proclaimed that Sullivan had spoiled the Beaux-Arts for him. He dreaded the idea of America becoming an extension of Europe, filled with dead replicas of the ancient Greek and Roman architectures. 

Frank Lloyd Wright's passing of the offer showed the true determination of the young architect to fulfill his quest of a new American Architecture. It's strange to envision how the course of architecture, specifically in Chicago, would have been altered had there been the architectural firm of Burnham & Wright.

Walter Gerts House, Frank Lloyd Wright 1911

Posted by George Pudlo on May 16, 2011 at 8:06 PM Comments comments (0)

Walter Gerts House (remodeled by Wright)
7214 Quick Street
River Forest, IL 60305

Frank Lloyd Wright was hired to remodel a house for Walter Gerts after a fire badly damaged the structure that was originally designed by Charles E. White. Several elements point to Wright, such as the stucco exterior, strong geometrical massing near the front porch area, and interesting roof lines.

Dr. A W Hebert House Remodeling, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902

Posted by George Pudlo on December 23, 2010 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (1)

Dr. A W Hebert House Remodeling, 1902

1014 Hinman St, Evanston IL

The A W Hebert House in Evanston, Illinois was not an original Frank Lloyd Wright work, but an example of his remodeling power. Wright gave the house a more of a Prairie mode by enclosing the front porch and extending the eaves of the roof line. A fire in 1959 destroyed much of Wright's new design but it was later restored.

Dr. Hebert was Frank Lloyd Wright’s dentist, and it is likely that Wright’s work for Hebert was an exchange for debts he owed to Hebert. Wright remodeled at least three other properties for Dr. Hebert in Evanston.

Hills-DeCaro House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1906/1977

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 2:09 AM Comments comments (1)

Hills-DeCaro House, 1906/1977

313 Forest Avenue, Oak Park IL

The Hills-DeCaro House sits on the lot adjacent to the Nathan Grier Moore House, with a large gap in between the two. Nathan Moore purchased the two lots next to his Frank Lloyd Wright designed Tudor Revival home, and had Frank Lloyd Wright remodel what was then a Stick Style House on the adjoining lot as a wedding gift to his daughter and son-in-law the Hills'. Frank Lloyd Wright completely remodeled the home, rendering the original house unrecognizable. He made it more Prairie Style with its over hanging eaves, and beautiful art glass windows, but one can also see the Japanese influence of Frank Lloyd Wright with its pagoda style roofs. 

When the Hills' moved into their new home, they enjoyed the outside, but were dissatisfied with the interior, Prairie layout. They hired an outside architect to undo the Prairie Style updates -clearly to the dismay of Frank Lloyd Wright. In the 1970's, there was a terrible fire that destroyed most of the interior of the home. The DeCaro family, then living in the home discovered that one of the only pieces to survive the fire was a built in Frank Lloyd Wright cabinet that contained the blueprints for both the inside and outside of the home. They then hired an architect to completely restore the home back to its original Frank Lloyd Wright condition. 

An interesting feature of this home is the white kiosk in the side yard- it was originally a ticket booth from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Ironically, it was at the World's Fair of 1893 that Frank Lloyd Wright was first exposed to Japanese Architecture in the Ho-o-den of the wooded island.

Peter Beachy House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1906

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 1:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Peter Beachy House, 1906

238 Forest Avenue, Oak Park IL

The Peter Beachy House is another Frank Lloyd Wright remodel. In the Beachy House, Frank Lloyd Wright completely transformed the original property into an entirely new structure. The original house was a small, Gothic cottage. The Beachy's hired Wright in 1906 to both expand and remodel their house. Wright built a new structure around the existing structure, and knocked down the interior walls to give it an open floor plan. On the exterior, we see most of the Prairie features: horizontal bands of concrete, a screen of windows, a concrete base, built in planters, strong sense of geometry, and overhanging eaves. Most of the Prairie houses have either a low hipped or flat roof. The Beachy House differs in that it has Gothic gables. Even though the gables perch up triangularly in the center, they still pull out horizontally on the sides, pulling the house parallel with the flat lines of the prairie. It should be noted that the windows are not art glass, this was a request of Mrs. Beachy. The concrete base in a Frank Lloyd Wright House typically indicates that there is no basement in the property. However, the Peter Beachy House does have a basement, so the concrete base is purely aesthetic.

Harrison Young House Remodel, Frank Lloyd Wright 1895

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Harrison Young House, 1895

334 North Kenilworth Avenue

Oak Park, IL

The Harrison Young House was one of Wright’s earliest commissions to remodel a house. The house is typical of other homes in the neighborhood of that time frame, and alludes to different historical eras. Wright was hired to enlarge the Young’s house only three years after they had been living in it. He pushed the house back nearly seventeen feet on the lot to enlarge the living room and add an enclosed porch. The overhang in the porch’s roof was used to exit a carriage with protection from the elements, a precursor to the carport. The arched windows in the cross gables are art glass casement windows, and the gables themselves give the appearance of half timbering, as seen in Wright’s Nathan G Moore House. 

Nathan Grier Moore House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1895/1923

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 1:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Nathan Grier Moore House

333 Forest Avenue, Oak Park IL

Nathan Moore requested a Tudor revival home, and a Tudor revival home he got, but not without Wright’s personal flares. Frank Lloyd Wright had the honor of designing the house twice, first in 1895, and again in 1923 after a Christmas Day fire in 1922. The newest version of the house is similar to the original design, but Wright incorporated features similar to those seen in the textile block homes he was creating in Los Angeles at the time. A stylized block was inserted into the side of the home facing Forest Avenue. The house features half timbered, high pitched gable roofs that overhang off of the base of the home and are the dominant physical presence of the home. The Nathan Moore House is a classic example of how a structure with too much ornament cannot be viewed as a whole, the eyes are shifting around trying to understand individual characteristics, instead of those features working together to create an organic whole. Each characteristic tries to upstage the next. The corners that mark the transition from the base of the building to the larger second floor are sprawled with Sullivanesque florals. The dormer windows are reinterpreted in shape and detailing as abstractly modern dormers with flecks of colored glass. The second version of the home grew a series of Gothic bay windows at its base. In Wright’s view, Gothic architecture was the last organic architecture before the Renaissance. The great cathedrals of the Gothic period inspired Wright in their declaration of space enclosure and in the way they were built from the inside out, as his Prairie homes would come to realize.

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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