A Good Ol’ Fashioned Tale of Architecture and Suspense: Saving Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed Landmarks
1318 Isabella Street, designed by Wright student John Van Bergen; Photo via Artinfo
Time was running out for Joseph Catrambone, real estate manager, architecture buff, and recent owner of a compact, abbreviated Prairie Style cottage designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in the 1920s. Catrambone purchased the Wilmette, Illinois-property, which had been previously threatened with demolition, for just $1–less than the can of Coke I’m drinking–but had only 2 weeks to set in motion his plans for dismantling and moving the structure to another site. Conclusion of Preface.
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Twist #1: The story takes a turn when you discover that the house was designed by Rudolph Schindler, future modernist architect of that beach house, who drew up the plans while employed by Wright. (Side note: Schindler would go on to work on some of Wright’s most illustrious projects, namely, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.)
Twist #2: an adjacent, neighboring house also proved of historical value when it was found out to be designed by John Van Bergen, another Wrightian disciple and employee. The Van Bergen house bears all the aesthetic signifiers of Wright’s Prairie Style–which would prove, time and again, the easiest of the master’s phases to ape–with authentic details like deep overhanging eves, rust-colored window frames and ledges, and pitched roofs that distinguishes the structure from Schindler’s “Prairie-lite” house next door.
1320 Isabella Street, designed by Wright student Rudolph Schindler; Photo via Chicago Tribune
Introduction of Suspense: Developer George Hausen bought both addresses last year with the intent of razing them. Ignorant of the architecture’s historical value, Hausen’s plans set off a wave of preservationists, who dug up the original blueprints for the adjoining houses. Wright was revealed to have participated in both designs, thus cementing the claims for preservation.
Twist #3 (All is not over): Wilmette, however, has no legislation in place for the protection of landmarks.
Unlikely Resolution: After hearing the grievances of the preservationists, Hausen backed down and entered into negotiations with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. The two entities agreed to put up the Van Bergen home for sale, which was listed on May 1 for $599,000 under the stipulation that the buyers would not demolish and significantly modify the structure.
Twist #4: But wait, what about the Schindler house, you ask? Hausen had planned to donate the cottage, when Catrambone swooped in to save the structure, summoning all the purchase power of four quarters. Of course, nothing of any value costs $1, and by signing the deed, Catrambone agreed to meticulously disassemble the house one panel and floorboard at a time, numbering and archiving them–at projected costs upwards $7,000–before he can raise the $40,000 in funds for its reconstruction in nearby Wauconda.
Cliffhanger (?): After rapidly formulating the relocation plans in under a fortnight, Catratombone must now deal with the financial realities that lay before him. He hopes that he can rebuild the Schindler house by next summer, when he will rent it out to architects and Wright fans.
To which we say, best of luck,