A major move shook up the world of all things Frank Lloyd Wright last week. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has long been planning to build a new Visitor and Education Center next to the modernist architect’s hugely-popular Oak Park, Illinois, home and studio, but the proposal to move forward was unanimously rejected by the village’s Historic Preservation Commission.
To accommodate the potential 9,000-square-foot welcome space, the plan indicated that 925 Chicago Avenue, situated next door to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, would have to be relocated or demolished as a last resort. That, and later additions at 931 Chicago Avenue, where Wright’s mother lived—and where the Trust currently operates the site from—also needed to be removed, restoring the building to its original footprint. This didn’t sit well with the Commission or the nearly 30 people who spoke out against the plan at the public hearing and vote on August 27.
In a statement following the vote, the Trust said it is considering its next steps:
“As a 21st Century organization, the Trust is resolved in its mission to honor the innovative vision and legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and to further contribute to the vitality of Oak Park as a living museum of significant architecture…Our commitment to design education will ensure that future generations value achievement in art, architecture and design for which Oak Park is renowned. To retain the value the Trust has added to Oak Park over the years, we must keep pace with standards of best practice in cultural tourism and education and set a tone of forward-thinking that Wright himself advocated.”
Located within the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, the proposal was slated to set the Trust up for a new space that would filter the 90,000 people who visited the famous site each year. Visitors currently enter and exit the historic locale through a cramped garage shop, noted the Chicago Tribune.
A design for the visitor’s center had already been in the works for the past few years since the Trust purchase 925 Chicago Avenue. The organization held a local competition for the project and announced in June that Chicago-based John Ronan had won. His vision included a reception hall, gift shop, a ticketing and information area, and an outdoor plaza with green space. According to the Trust’s chairman Bob Mill, the proposal was selected between it had a “quiet presence within the site” and used materials that reference the surrounding neighborhood.
Despite what appeared to be a thoughtful proposal, there was overwhelming opposition to the project. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Landmarks Illinois, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy all denounced the scheme. The Village of Oak Park said the Trust must submit a new application with a different proposal through the Historic Preservation Commission.
Last week, the Trust issued a noted saying it will not appeal the commission’s decision, but instead reconsider its plan.