I started the year by looking back at a handful of demolitions I documented in 2021. But what about demolition by neglect? This is a somewhat common practice used by numerous property owners and developers across the country who let a building deteriorate to the point that demolition is absolutely required. The strategy is one of the toughest preservation issues we face today. Lack of maintenance is apparent for all to see, and unless there are strict local ordinances that protect historic structures from decay and abandonment, not much can be done to stop demolition by neglect.
Was pointed to your article on Krause (I used to live a few blocks from it), and was suggested this article. I am a Chicago Architecture Center docent who has given the FLW in Oak Park walking tours for more than 10 years (and downtown walking tours for more than 10 years before that), and a resident of Oak Park. I don't know much about the Home & Studio organization's changes and priorities and values. Without a doubt, they made a massive mistake not involving the neighborhood in the planning and discussions. In Oak Park, that’s a cardinal sin.
But to me, the visitor center would have been a great addition. It would be great to have a modern check-in facility to spread people out or get out of the rain and yes, have more than one person for the 100+ people per hour going through the home. Programming could also have been expanded.
Opponents talk about the historic district or neighborhood as if it's been under glass for 120 years. It has not. And a walk down Kenilworth you see the stately Victorians from the 1800s flanked by mid-century ranches. Holmes school across the street is a brick mid-century design with a tasteful modern addition. There’s a great mid-century apartment building on the NW corner of Forest and Chicago, across the street from the H&S. Even the Laura Gale house is particularly not of the area’s era. Like downtown Chicago, Oak Park is this fun mix of Victorians, Gundersons, courtyard apartments, bungalows, workers' cottages, mid-century structures, and even the great new high rises downtown, like Albion.
(I particularly love the home at the end of the cul-de-sac at Elizabeth and Kenilworth. They took a tiny little house and added a modern addition that looks straight out of an Audi commercial. Plus, the windows and trim facing Kenilworth look like the house is smirking at the pretentiousness of the mansions.)
The Ronan design would have quietly bordered the property, enabling the H&S, gingko tree and mother’s house to be the stars.
I reject the idea that demolishing this one house would lead to a slippery slope of more and more demolitions. The Trustees could have approved this because it’s a demolition of an insignificant (but OLD!) building for the benefit of strengthening a cultural institution and important economic driver. I’m not sure how many other situations like this could exist in Oak Park.
Wright himself would likely have wanted the modern center. In researching my tour, I came across an interview where Wright was asked about the reputation his buildings had for poor quality. And he basically said "Buildings are made for the culture and life and technology of the time they are built. No one will want to live in buildings like these in 50 or 100 years – the world will have evolved. So it doesn't have to last."
Maybe the H&S is doing demolition by neglect. I do not think the H&S is flush with cash from foundations or benefactors. So when you can’t give tours for two years, yes, you have to let staff go and save your cash for maintaining the core home and studio. How much will it cost to renovate the house? Where will that money come from? Should they hire staff back or replace its roof? Should they divert $$$ from H&S maintenance to this structure? (I also do not support this idea of historic preservation for archaeological study of structures not truly significant. You should be able to replace wood clapboard with Hardyboard on a house in an historic district if it doesn’t alter the appearance.)
(It’s funny, this house reminds me of the old WMVP 1000 Kevin Matthews satire of classic rock radio stations: “Don’t have to be good to be a classic!”)
Regardless, enjoyed the Krause story and looking forward to digging into the past and future content as a subscriber.