Next week, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy will be hosting its annual conference in Chicago. Running from Oct. 19 through Oct. 23, this year’s theme is “The Progressive City,” reflecting the spirit of the city around 1900 when Wright was gaining notoriety in the Chicago area.
“Wright was working at a time in Chicago when there were so many ideas about living in a city that were taking hold,” said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the conservancy.
From progressive reforms addressing social inequality and public health crises to lack of access to education, nature and affordable housing, the conference’s education sessions will focus on the efforts of Wright, his peers and his collaborators to improve the city through innovations in architecture, urban planning, parks, public health, education, social services and housing.
During the gala, the Wright Spirit Award Winners will be presented, with one being presented to Riverside resident Fanie Greef, who with his late husband, John Farneda, rescued and renovated the south wing of the main home at Wright’s sprawling Coonley Estate, which had been subdivided into several separate residences in the 1950s.
The home was originally designed for Avery Coonley and his wife Queene Ferry Coonley from 1908 to 1912 and set on a 10-acre parcel at the southern tip of Riverside.
The south wing had been vacant for several years, was in poor condition and had been damaged by vandals who had gained entry to the home at one point. Greef and Farneda purchased the property in 2015.
“It was abandoned,” Greef said. “There were a lot of problems.”
Chief among these was a leaking roof, and clogged gutters and downspouts, which were causing serious water damage inside the historic home.
After Greef and Farneda completed a historically accurate replacement of the roof and gutter system, they turned their attention to the rest of the house, replacing the plumbing system and knob-and-tube wiring and repairing stucco and damaged wood trim.
Working with original blueprints and old photographs, they also restored the primary suite’s fireplace to what it looked like originally, and Greef says they tackled the upkeep and maintenance needed to protect the home’s 108 fragile art-glass windows.
“It was a labor of love,” Greef said. “It’s been an honor to work on this house. John and I were able to see the potential of this house. We loved the lines of this house and the connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, but we knew it was not just about our love of the house. It was about stewardship and doing this for future generations.”
Greef says winning the award is “a total honor” and lamented that Farneda, who died in 2021, is not there to see the accolades for their years of meticulous restoration. In 2017, the Frederick Law Olmsted Society presented the couple with its Restoration Award for the work they completed on the once-endangered home.
Gordon said Greef and Farneda, as well as the other award winners, were worthy of accolades.
“Normally, we are looking at extraordinary effort in preservation,” Gordon said. “For instance, in the professional category, these are people who have a huge portfolio of working on Wright properties around the country. For the private owners, these are often people who took a difficult situation and invested their time, talent and treasure to preserve a Wright home.”
Gordon also singled out the Laurent House Foundation in Rockford as a must-see. As Wright’s only ADA-accessible home, Gordon says it stand apart. She also praises the long-term preservation efforts of Col. Jennifer Pritzker for the restoration of Wright’s Emil Bach home in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Gordon is looking forward to welcoming the conference back to Chicago for the first time in 15 years. Every fall, the conference is held in a different city that has a concentration of Wright-designed buildings. The purpose is to bring together people living and working in Wright buildings to talk about the experience of living and preserving them.
The audience is not limited to those who are privileged enough to live or work in Wright’s designs.
“It’s for everybody,” Gordon said.
Beyond being the city where Wright gained fame, Gordon says Chicago is an exciting host city.
“Chicago has two World Heritage sites. It’s neat that the Unity Temple in Oak Park and the Robie House are both Wright designs, and they are Chicago’s only two World Heritage Sites,” Gordon said.
Over the course of five days, participants can enjoy tours, lectures and celebrations. A complete schedule of events is available at savewright.org/events/annual-conference.
Some highlights of this year’s in person offerings include tours of the Coonley Estate, Wright’s Home & Studio, Unity Temple, the Emil Bach House, Baker House, the Dorothy and William Ross House, Robie House, Heller House, the Kathryn and Lloyd Lewis House, and Willits House.
Gatherings include education sessions on Oct. 22, an opening reception at the Rookery, a benefit dinner at Unity Temple and a Gala at the Palmer House Hilton.
For those unable to attend the conference in person, many events will be livestreamed or will offer online participation. The silent auction portion of the gala will open online on Oct. 17 and will be available online until bidding closes at 10 p.m. on Oct. 22. Education sessions, the conservancy’s annual meeting, and a documentary and events for Unity Temple and Robie House will also be available to online participants.
This year’s conference is chaired by Kelly Jones, of the FLWBC Board; Carmen Korleski, of TAWANI Hospitality/ Emil Bach House; and Heidi Ruehle, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation.
Wright Spirit Award Winners
Jack Reed, owner, Glasner House, Glencoe, for rescue, restoration and protection of the Glasner House.
Gale and Eric Rothner, former owners, Alice and George Millard House, Highland Park, for rescue, restoration and renovation of the Millard House.
Patrick Schwarz and William Levy, owners, Mary Adams House, Highland Park, for the comprehensive restoration and renovation of the Adams House.
John Farneda and Stephanus Greeff, owners, Coonley House, south wing, Riverside, for the rescue and restoration of the Coonley House, south wing.
Glencoe Historical Society, Village of Glencoe and Glencoe Park District for rescue of Booth Cottage.
Laurent House Foundation for its commitment to preserving and sharing the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent.
Eifler & Associates, architects, for his work on many Wright properties, which combine conscientious restoration and practical rehabilitation practices, including an emphasis on sustainable renovation.
T. Gunny Harboe for his strong focus on preservation architecture especially as applied to the work of Wright.
Carol J.H. Yetken, CYLA Design Associates Inc., for her work to enhance the landscapes of Wright properties through both aesthetics and infrastructure.
Jennifer N. Pritzker, president & CEO, TAWANI Enterprises, Inc., Colonel, IL ARNG (Retired), for her leadership in supporting the Wright community, through philanthropy and the restoration of the Bach House.