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Edwin Cheney House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1903

Posted by George Pudlo on December 17, 2010 at 2:15 AM


Edwin Cheney House, 1903

520 N East Avenue, Oak Park IL

The Edwin Cheney House was completed in 1903 and is a fully mature Prairie Style Home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Edwin Cheney House rests on a concrete stylobate; is long, flat, and horizontal; has a low hipped roof; has beautifully orchestrated art glass windows; has a broad, central chimney; and overall is very well connected to the nature on which it rises from. Though the Edwin Cheney House appears small, it is actually quite large with four bedrooms. The house is two floors. In the front of the Cheney House, the first floor is partially submerged underground, but the foundation of the building shifts in the back of the property where both floors are fully exposed. The privacy wall in front  dominates the house, and gives little indication to the passerby of what lies beyond.

Frank Lloyd Wright, especially in his early career, always liked to get to know the personality of his clients to match with the personality of the home. Wright got to know the personality of Mrs. Cheney all too well. The two began an intimate love affair that began on an emotional level, but eventually became physical. The affair between Mamah and Frank Lloyd Wright culminated in 1909 with the two of them leaving their respective Oak Park families behind and traveling to Europe together where they stayed for a year. 

Up until the point of Wright's Oak Park departure in 1909, he maintained celebrity status in the Chicagoland area and was known across the United States. It was during this year in Europe that Frank Lloyd Wright was vaulted to an international status. He was in correspondence with Ernst Wasmuth, a Berlin publisher, to publish a portfolio of his entire collection of work up until that point, known as the Wasmuth Portfolio. The two volume Wasmuth Portfolio is entitled Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe von Frank Lloyd Wright, and is Frank Lloyd Wright's monograph of his entire collection of work up until that point, with works dating between 1893-1909. The Edwin Cheney House is among the collection represented.

Upon the return of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, the two star crossed lovers moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin where Wright established Taliesin on a piece of land given to him by his mother. They stayed together at Taliesin to the dismay of the public and scandalous excitement of the tabloids, often making front page news in the Chicago Tribune in their "love bungalow" as it was dubbed. The affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick (she divorced and took back her maiden name), held strong until 1914 when a terrible tragedy ended their relationship. While Frank Lloyd Wright was in Chicago working on the Midway Gardens, a deranged servant poured gasoline around the perimeter of Taliesin, lit it on fire, and axed Mamah Borthwich and her two children from her first marriage to Edwin Cheney, to death, along with four other employees. 

Categories: Frank Lloyd Wright Oak Park (IL), Prairie Houses

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