The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s annual housewalk, Wright Plus, comes to town on May 16 for its 41st incarnation, opening up several homes that have never been featured on the walk, which this year has been dubbed, “Walk Wright In.”
For the first time, walk participants will be invited to Riverside, where parts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Avery Coonley Estate and its neighbor, Thorncroft, designed by William Drummond, will be on display.
Back in Oak Park, the Hemingway Boyhood Home at 600 N. Kenilworth Ave., designed by Henry G. Fiddelke, will also be included on the tour for the first time.
Wright Plus coordinator Angela Whitaker notes that keeping the walk fresh is important.
“It’s the 41st year,” she noted, “and we try really hard to come up with new things for our attendees. We love providing something new.”
According to Whitaker, the preservation movement and the public perception of historic home ownership has changed dramatically in the 41 years of Wright Plus, affording the Trust, well, the trust to feature more homes by Wright and his contemporaries.
“In Oak Park,” she said, “the quality of the homes is so unique. We now see a lot of homeowners interested in architecture and restoration.”
Avery Coonley Estate
When the opportunity arose to include Wright’s iconic Coonley Estate on this year’s walk, the Trust was excited about stretching the walk to Riverside. The estate was built in 1908 for Avery Coonley and his wife, Queene Ferry Coonley, both heirs to industrial fortunes.
It is one of the few estates designed by Wright and includes several buildings. The main house, at almost 9,000 square feet, included a public/living room wing as well as a private wing for bedrooms.
Situated on the Des Plaines River, the almost 10-acre parcel of land was landscaped with extensive sunken gardens designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen.
The Coonleys spared no expense on the home, and Wright not only provided the furnishings for the estate, but is also said to have designed gowns for Queene Ferry Coonley to complement the rooms.
Wright designed multiple other buildings on the grounds, including a stable and gardener’s cottage. Supporters of early childhood education, the Coonleys also hired Wright to design a nearby kindergarten, the Avery Coonley Playhouse in 1912.
The school later moved to Downers Grove, where it still operates, and the playhouse became a private residence.
The estate was threatened with demolition by a developer in 1952, but Jim and Carolyn Howett purchased the estate and split it among four owners, with the main house divided into two residences: the public main house and the private wing. The coach house and the gardener’s cottage became separate residences as well.
Guests on this year’s Wright Plus will be invited to see the main house, the stables and the reflecting pool and sunken gardens.
A fire in the main house in 1978 nearly destroyed the living room, but a meticulous restoration restored the home to its original state. Whitaker notes that the current owners, Dean and Ella Mae Eastman, have been responsible for much of the upkeep and restoration of the home and stables. Dean Eastman has documented his research and restoration in a book titled, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Coonley House Estate.
Like the Coonley Estate, nearby Thorncroft will be feature for the first time on this year’s walk.
William Drummond, a noted Prairie School architect who worked in the studios of both Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, designed Riverside’s Thorncroft in 1912. The classic Prairie Style home was built as residence for teachers at the nearby kindergarten.
Now a private home, Thorncroft is adjacent to the Coonley house, allowing visitors an intimate look at the historical layout of the buildings.
“The Thorncroft residence can be seen from the Coonley house,” Whitaker said. “It was built specifically for teachers at the Coonley Estate school, so it gives our participants a good way to see historically how the two tie in.”
Hemingway Boyhood Home
Designed in 1906 by architect Henry G. Fiddelke, with purported input from owner Grace Hemingway, the Hemingway Boyhood Home was the house in which Hemingway spent his late boyhood and where he wrote some of his first works.
Over time, the home was divided up into multiple residences and, after longtime owner Eileen Burns died in 2001, it was purchased by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.
The foundation’s plans to utilize the space were not realized, and in 2012 the home was sold to a family who returned the structure to a private residence.
“The owners have been stewards of the house,” Whitaker said, “and we’re really excited to have it on the walk this year. The fact that it’s right across the street from Wright’s Oscar B. Balch House, also on this year’s tour, makes this a great location for our guests.”