Descendants Return for Wright Housewalk

Reprinted from the September 21, 2015 Pioneer Press

by Daniel Dorfman

Photographs and documents were pored over, memories were shared and even a few tears were shed when two cousins who live on opposite ends of the country got together last week in Glencoe.

What made the family reunion even more special was that it took place in a home designed for their grandparents by the iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Housewalk-Highlights-1Alice Booth LeDoux and her cousin, Mardie Melchin, returned to their grandparents’ house to take part in another event of the Glencoe Historical Society’s yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Ravine Bluffs. That subdivision is where seven Wright-designed homes remain, a main reason why Glencoe has the third-highest number of existing Wright structures in the world, according to Ed Goodale of the Glencoe Historical Society Board of Directors.

The grandparents of LeDoux and Melchin play a central role in this story as they just happen to be Sherman and Elizabeth Booth. Sherman was Wright’s attorney and friend, and Elizabeth was a leading women’s suffragist in Illinois and one of four women primarily responsible for the passage of the act that gave Illinois women the right to vote in 1913, according to Glencoe Historical Society President Karen Ettelson.

Sherman Booth commissioned Wright to design the homes in Ravine Bluffs, Goodale said, and the Booths wound up moving into one of the prairie-style houses on Sylvan Road.

LeDoux would come over from Northbrook several times a year and Melchin would stay for a few weeks over the summer, coming in from the Boston area where her parents lived.

Sherman---300-x-300“We had many get-togethers in the dining room and living room,” LeDoux remembered, who said she burst into tears upon entering the house for the first time in over 50 years.

The house has now been out of the Booth family since the late 1950s, but the meticulous nature of the Wright design had a lifelong impact LeDoux and Melchin.

“It’s probably the reason why I went to architecture school,” said LeDoux, today a resident of Orange, Calif. “I was always really interested in how someone could create a house like this.”

LeDoux pursued architecture for several years prior to taking on a role in her husband’s business.

Melchin added that no matter what type of house she sees, it will always be compared to Wright’s offerings.

“It means that wherever I go, I look at a house and how it is situated on the land and how it works and how it doesn’t,” said Melchin, who today lives in Westford, Mass., working as an after-school program instructor.

As they sat in one of the upstairs bedrooms, the two cousins fielded questions about what they knew about the house from house walk participants. Melchin reminisced about the staircase on the third floor that came out of the ceiling that led to the tower at the top of the home. It has since been sealed off due to leaking.

Neither remembered actually meeting the famed architect on their visits, and their grandfather didn’t discuss business issues in front of them.

“He was pretty closed-mouth with the younger generation,” Melchin said.

Alice---940-x-500When LeDoux did want to listen in on the grownups, she would position herself on top of a shelf in the living room and she said she was not noticed, even though she was in plain sight. For fun, she recreated how she positioned herself at the Sept. 18 party.

Melchin added that since the home was envisioned by one of the great creative minds in the history of architecture, it just might have a type of “karma” to it.

“It was a good place to have wonderful thoughts and it still is,” Melchin said.

The Glencoe Historical Society, which has put up miniature Wright sculptures throughout Glencoe as part of the centennial celebration, conducted a walking tour of the Wright homes on Sunday, to be followed by a gala slated for Oct. 3 at the Am Shalom synagogue featuring Max Weinberg, the drummer of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Karen Ettelson, the president of the Historical Society, said the presence of the Booth family members has only enlivened the celebration.

“It was extraordinary to have descendants of individuals who were so critical to the development of Glencoe return home for our celebration,” Ettelson said. “Their photos and personal documents and recollections have added immeasurably to the history of Glencoe.”

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