By Bob Uphues
Eighteen years after Ella Mae Eastman and her late husband, Dean, purchased the "public wing" of the Avery Coonley Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of Prairie School design in Riverside, the residence has new owners.
Eastman confirmed that the property at 281 Bloomingbank Road closed on Feb. 1. The buyers are Richard Marritt and Steven Oldham.
"We are really looking forward to our move to Riverside and being part of the community," said Marritt in an email. "The home is a real work of art and the Eastmans were such fine stewards of the property."
Online real estate sources indicate that the 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bathroom house sold for $1.15 million.
That's a little more than the $975,000 the Eastmans paid for the property back in 2000. When the Eastmans first put the residence on the market in 2010, the list price was $2.9 million. It had been on and off the market ever since, with the listing price reducing over time. The house had most recently been listed at just below $1.3 million.
Under the Eastmans' stewardship, the public wing of the Coonley Estate underwent a painstaking, expensive restoration. The estate is one of two Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Riverside named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The four-year restoration project earned the Eastmans a 2004 Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
"He was dogged," John Waters, preservation programs manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, told the Landmark following Dean Eastman's death in March 2018. "He always wants to do things the best, most appropriate way."
Ella Mae Eastman said selling the property after she and her husband put so much time, money and effort into its restoration was bittersweet. She leaves with very fond memories of people they met through the home and of the work they accomplished.
"On the other hand," Eastman said. "I'm by myself and don't need to take care of this big house all by myself."
Eastman said the new owners, who are relocating to the Chicago area from another place, first viewed the house last September and made the decision to buy on a return trip in December.
The Coonley "public wing" is the largest of four private residences that now comprise the once-sprawling estate of Avery and Queene Ferry Coonley, who commissioned Wright to design their home, which was built between 1908 and 1912.
By the 1950s, the main home – the "public wing" and the "bedroom wing" -- had been made into two separate residences, separated by a fire wall, and the property had been further subdivided. Other buildings on the property, the gardener's cottage and the coach house, were also made into separate private homes.
The bedroom wing was purchased in 2015 by John Farneda and Stephanus Greef. Their work to save that half of the landmark home earned them a 2017 Frederick Law Olmsted Society's Restoration Award.
Another former part of the estate, a former kindergarten known as the Coonley Playhouse on Fairbank Road, is currently on the market for $800,000.
The Eastmans bought the Coonley Coach House in 2005 and renovated the building and grounds. Ella Mae Eastman still lives there, just a short walk away from her longtime home.
"I can look over there and see the lights," she said. "It's kind of strange."
At some point in the future, Eastman said, she'll be looking to sell the coach house to move to the city.
"I'm not sure when that will be, but I won't be here forever," Eastman said.