Teardown Hell

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When I lived in Oak Park, IL my favorite house in town was a 1908 Frank Lloyd Wright on Forest Avenue. It was a classic Prairie Style house, long and low, with an obscured front entrance and a spectacular dining room, complete with Wright-designed art glass. In 1908 it must have looked like a building from another planet. The house had been expertly restored by a couple with young children (we bought a bouncy seat from them in a garage sale). As of last summer the house was for sale for around $5 million. The asking price was several times beyond what we could afford, but it was a nice dream . . .

Until I got to thinking about living in a Wright every day. Wright’s interiors are a combination of the ethereal and the heavy-handed. There’s such a thing, I think, as too much art glass. And how do you decorate a Wright house? Any furniture, artwork, knick-knacks, whatever, would be overwhelmed by the Wrightness of the space. Add to that the cramped bedrooms and a forgetaboutit kitchen and you’ve got a house that makes some demands on its residents. I noticed that the young Oak Park family were ready to move on after only five years.

As challenging as a Wright house can be, it’s still a crime against architecture to tear one down to build a generic McMansion. PrairieMod reports that’s what a developer in Glencoe, IL wants to do. Lisa DiChiera, the advocacy director for Landmarks Illinios, describes Glencoe as "teardown hell," but even the citizens of Glencoe should rethink their zeal for six burner stoves and media rooms.  After all, Frank Lloyd Wright houses aren’t exactly a renewable resource. The garden suburb concept, of which Glencoe is a prime example, presents an idealized version of the pre-industrial past. It’s ironic that Glencoe and other North Shore suburbs should be so cavalier about their own actual past.

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