Before Frank Lloyd Wright became an internationally-recognized name in the world of design, the architect spent many years in Oak Park, Illinois, designing homes for Chicago-area residents. Wright got his start working for the famed Sullivan & Adler firm from 1888 to 1893, and it was under the tutelage of Louis Sullivan specifically that Wright began to explore the elements that would eventually lead to the Prairie School movement. For the rest of the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century, Wright continued to live and work in Oak Park and designed dozens of structures here.
Oak Park’s federally designated Frank Lloyd Wright/Prairie School of Architecture Historic District boasts the world’s largest collection of Wright-designed homes, and by studying his work in Oak Park, we can get a good read on the architect’s evolution.
For fans looking to explore on their own, here’s a rundown of the 25 buildings in Oak Park that were designed or remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright. Map points are listed by direction, starting from the north and heading south.
Commissioned by the congregation of Oak Park Unity Church in 1905, Wright’s Unity Temple is the greatest public building of the architect’s Chicago years. Wright’s family on his mother’s side were Welsh Unitarians, and his uncle Jenkin Lloyd Jones was a distinguished Unitarian preacher with a parish on Chicago’s south side where Wright and his wife Catherine were married. Wright identified with the rational humanism of Unitarianism, particularly as influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism, uniting all beings as one with the divine presence.
The design he submitted to the congregation broke with almost every existing convention for traditional Western ecclesiastic architecture. On the novel choice of construction material Wright states, “There was only one material to choose—as church funds were $45,000. Concrete was cheap.” Wright’s bold concept for the building enabled a series of concrete forms to be repeated multiple times.
In harmony with Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture, the concrete was left uncovered by plaster, brick, or stone. Wright’s sensitive handling of materials was a defining feature of his architecture from early in his career. “Bring out the nature of the materials,” Wright insisted in his seminal essay In the Cause of Architecture, “let their nature intimately into your scheme. Reveal the nature of wood, plaster, brick, or stone in your designs, they are all by nature friendly and beautiful. No treatment can be really a matter of fine art when those natural characteristics are, or their nature is, outraged or neglected.”
I had read about Unity Temple long ago, but had forgotten until I walked up to it, and was amazed.
An Aura Of Sacred Mystery
For The Worship Of God And The Service Of Man
I took other photos of Unity Temple, but haven’t yet processed them.
Remnants of A Holinger & Company Safe
Lake Street, looks to be under reconstruction. There’s a story here for sure.
Circa 1950, Julian moved his family to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, becoming the first African-American family to reside there. Although some residents welcomed them into the community, there was also opposition. Before they even moved in, on Thanksgiving Day, 1950, their home was fire-bombed. Later, after they moved in, the house was attacked with dynamite on June 12, 1951. The attacks galvanized the community, and a community group was formed to support the Julians. Julian’s son later recounted that during these times, he and his father often kept watch over the family’s property by sitting in a tree with a shotgun.
In 1953, Julian founded his own research firm, Julian Laboratories, Inc. He brought many of his best chemists, including African-Americans and women, from Glidden to his own company. Julian won a contract to provide Upjohn with $2 million worth of progesterone (equivalent to $17 million today).
To compete against Syntex, he would have to use the same Mexican yam, obtained from the Mexican barbasco trade, as his starting material. Julian used his own money and borrowed from friends to build a processing plant in Mexico, but he could not get a permit from the government to harvest the yams.
Abraham Zlotnik, a former Jewish University of Vienna classmate whom Julian had helped escape from the Holocaust, led a search to find a new source of the yam in Guatemala for the company.
Memorial To Soldiers Who Fought in World War I, Oak Park, and River Forest
In the center of Scoville Park.
The CTA’s Green Line runs through Oak Park, several blocks are covered in murals much like the murals at Hubbard Street.