For the 'Wright' buyer a historic opportunity in Riverside

Both halves of Coonley House on the market

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By BOB UPHUES

In a real estate market flooded with inventory, another house going on the market typically wouldn't be much of a story. Then again, this isn't just another house.

On Oct. 20, the home at 281 Bloomingbank Road in Riverside popped up as an active listing in the multiple listing service. That's the address of one half of the Avery Coonley Estate, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1908.

What makes the listing of that property even more interesting is that the other half of the main Coonley home, at 300 Scottswood Road, is also for sale. That residence has been on the market for many months and is currently vacant.

The Coonley House is no ordinary Frank Lloyd Wright home, if there is such a thing. The Coonley House represents the pinnacle of Wright's Prairie-style period, the swan song of his years as an architect in Oak Park.

Together with the coach house and gardener's cottage, the estate is also the largest residential complex of Wright's years in Oak Park. Being on the market at the same time presents a unique opportunity, albeit a complete long shot, to reunite the two halves of the main home.

First things first: Any buyer will have to be a person of some means.

The listing price for the Bloomingbank Road residence, beautifully and authentically restored by its present owners, Dean and Ella Mae Eastman - is $2.9 million. The Eastmans also own the Coonley coach house, which was previously for sale but is no longer on the market. The Eastmans restored the once-imperiled coach house beginning in 2006.

The Scottswood Road residence, which would need a good deal of work to match the restoration effort of its companion, according to those who have some knowledge of the residence, is listed for $1.3 million.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the right buyer," said Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a Chicago-based organization whose mission is "to facilitate the preservation and maintenance of the remaining structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright," according to its website.

"The last time all four components were on the market at the same time was 1997," Halstead said. "There was a potential buyer, but it didn't materialize. It would take a lot of resources, but it would be spectacular. The [Eastmans'] wing is already spectacular."

Neither the Eastmans nor the listing agent for the Scottswood Road property wished to be interviewed for this story.

Joining the two residences would create a huge home. The Bloomingbank Road wing, according to listing information found online, is 6,000 square feet and has five bedrooms and five baths. The wing includes the Coonley estate's "public" rooms on the second floor, including the living room (which overlooks a reflecting pool through a band of art glass windows), dining room and library. The ground floor includes a large playroom and two bedrooms.

The wing also includes the home's original servant's quarters, reached from the main home via the second floor. The servants' quarters have been converted into a second-floor master suite and a workshop and wine cellar on the ground floor.

At the Scottswood address is the Coonley House's original bedroom wing. That wing has been converted into a three-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom residence. The two halves of the house are separated by a firewall, constructed when the estate was subdivided in the 1950s. In its totality, the Coonley Estate is a National Historic Landmark, so designated in 1970 by the National Park Service.

"In this market who knows, but what a tremendous opportunity if they can find the right person," said Charles Pipal, chairman of the Riverside Preservation Commission. "It's rare that the two halves would be available at the same time."

Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, a fellow member of the Preservation Commission and owner of Frank Lloyd Wright's Tomek House on Nuttall Road, also agreed that both halves of the home being on the market was an opportunity. However, she said, whoever would venture to buy both properties would have to be very wealthy and a committed Wrightophile.

"Unless you get Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their six children, who could afford to do this?" she asked.

She said one viable alternative would be for a potential buyer to approach the Plan Commission to see if the home could be converted into a bed and breakfast or venue for special events.

"That could be a viable use of that property," said Marsh-Ozga.

As for the actual act of removing the firewall to reunite the two halves of the house, Pipal, an architect, said, "It might take a little structural gymnastics, but it's certainly doable.

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David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 14th, 2019 3:28 PM

I grew up in Riverside and our family referred to it as the Kroehler house. Did Kroehlers (of Kroehler Furniture in Naperville) live there at some time?

James Shepro from lemont  

Posted: February 11th, 2019 11:44 AM

I grew up in the Coonley House. 281 Bloomingbank. The lily pond used to be a crystal clear 50'x50' swimming pool. We had busloads of tourists from all over the world every month, roaming our property w/ nikon cameras, clamoring to get a glimpse of the yard and interior. Funny that no one comes there now. My family had pool parties w/ cars parked up and down Bloomingbank Rd. for a mile in each direction. I dislike all of the "restoration" work that was done after the fire in1977. I think that the Eastmans created media hype about their "restoration" efforts to drive up the sales price, after the cheap repairs performed by unskilled craftsmen. The woodwork finishes don't match. They are too dark and greenish, unlike the golden oak finishes that were original. The rugs are hideous. The furniture and light fixtures were recreated and claimed to be original. And other furniture was totally out of place. The replacement red quarry tile doesn't match the original. The skylights are gone. and more

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