Housewalk Showcases Wright’s Work

Reprinted from the September 15, 2015 Glencoe Anchor

by Fouad Egbaria

Tour-MapFor the first time in 22 years, residents and visitors alike will get the chance to tour a keystone of Glencoe’s architectural history.

On Sunday, Sept. 20, the Glencoe Historical Society will host the first Frank Lloyd Wright housewalk in Glencoe since 1993. As part of the society’s yearlong Ravine Bluffs Centennial celebration, the housewalk will serve as one of the year’s final building blocks. The celebration concludes Oct. 3 with a gala at Am Shalom, during which the Frank Lloyd Wright street markers on display throughout town will be auctioned off.

The housewalk will include tours of four Wright-designed houses: the Glasner house (1905), the Brigham house (1908), the Booth cottage (1913) and the Kissam house (1915).

Karen Ettelson, president of the Glencoe Historical Society, said this is the first time the Booth cottage will be open to the public. The cottage was designed for Sherman Booth, Wright’s friend and attorney.

“One of the things that makes this housewalk different than other housewalks, and particularly the Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright housewalks, is that those are individual houses,” Ettelson said. “People go to the house and they hear about [and] walk through the house, then they go to the next house.

“In our instance, particularly with the Ravine Bluffs tour, there’s really a story behind all of it that unites all of it.”

Glencoe resident and architect Scott Javore noted that Ravine Bluffs is the only subdivision Wright ever designed.

“I think the subdivision has been kind of glossed over in architectural history,” he said. “It was to be affordable housing, they weren’t magnificent houses, they weren’t huge enormous masterpieces by Wright. But they have a significant place in the lineage of his work.”

Glasner---940-x-500The first home Wright designed in Glencoe was the Glasner house, 850 Sheridan Road, nearing the beginning of his Prairie period, which came to a close around 1915 with the construction of the Kissam house, 1023 Meadow Road.

While a tour of the famous Wisconsin-born architect’s house has been done in the village before, Ettelson said they’ve made a number of discoveries that clear up some misconceptions about his work in Glencoe – for instance, the idea that the homes he designed were meant to be rentals.

“That’s completely untrue,” Ettelson said. “He never intended to rent them, they were always for sale. The first ad for the Ravine Bluffs lots appeared in July of 1915 in the Chicago Tribune. There was never, ever an advertisement to rent the homes.”

The only reason some of them ended up being rented, she added, was that Booth had difficulties selling them.

In addition, while Glencoe sits third on the list of places for Wright-designed homes (behind only Chicago and Oak Park), he had a vision for something even grander. There were 25 available lots, and Booth had designs on building a Wright-designed home in each one.

“Had the original vision been realized, there would have been 25 Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Ravine Bluffs,” Ettelson said.

During their research, Ettelson said they discovered three drawings for homes that were never built, that were actually different in design from the others. Those, she said, were larger, and intended for specific lots in the subdivision.

Another misconception? The idea that Wright was only peripherally involved in the home-building process, Ettelson said. While he wasn’t on site every day, he was very involved in the building process and approval of the homes’ ultimate designs.

The society’s research included looking though Booth family photographs, which Ettelson said offered a “wealth of information,” not just about Ravine Bluffs but about Glencoe, generally. Ettelson and Javore even had a chance to meet descendants of Booth, some of whom will be on hand for a special Friday, Sept. 18 dinner at the Booth house, 265 Sylvan Road (the proceeds from which will go toward the Society’s rebuild of the old Wright train waiting station and a commemorative park).

Sherman---300-x-300Booth, a founding member of the Glencoe Park District (serving on the board from 1912-1929), played an integral role in the growth of Glencoe’s parks system, in addition to bringing esteemed landscape architect Jens Jensen’s services to the village.

“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that a lot of the parks you see in Glencoe, particularly Lakefront and along the Metra tracks, all have a bit of Sherman Booth’s vision in them,” Ettelson said.

Longtime Glencoe resident Susan Solway, professor and founding chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University, has lived in two of the houses on the tour. She resided in the Kissam house from 1978-1986, and currently lives in the Brigham house. Solway was also involved in the preparations of the 1993 housewalk, serving as a co-chair for that event. She also served on the board of directors of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Brigham---940-x-500Solway said Wright pioneered the use of concrete as a building material, in an age when Model T automobiles were rolling off the factory lines, an age increasingly interested in the concept of modernity.

Of course, what was once modern becomes a part of the past – and the past is something Solway treasures. In a culture where newer is almost always viewed as better, Solway said, she hopes the housewalk will shine a light on the value of this architectural legacy.

“I hope that, if the housewalk achieves anything, it will help to make Glencoe residents more aware of this wonderful collection of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. … [And] also an appreciation of architecture as a extant reminder of the evolution of place,” Solway said. “Through the architecture, we can imagine another place in time.”