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Donald and Elizabeth Duncan House

Photo by Dave Teats

In the fall of 2003 the Conservancy was notified that upon the death of the original client-owner of the Duncan House (1957) in Lisle, Illinois, a developer had a right of first refusal to purchase the property. The plan was to demolish the house and complete the subdivision that had grown up around the little three-bedroom, one-story house with the type of large, multi-story houses that had by then all but engulfed the Duncan House.

With the assistance of the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Herald in Lisle, and the Conservancy’s own print and web outlets, we broadcast the imminent possibility that the Duncan House could soon become the first Wright structure in more than 30 years to be demolished unless a preservation solution could be quickly found. We received more than a dozen inquiries from the Chicago area and around the country from well meaning individuals expressing interest in purchasing the house for residential purposes. When it became obvious that the only way to purchase the house was to pay the development value for the site, which was high enough to support the construction of three new houses in an expensive upscale neighborhood, the renovation of the house for residential purposes on its site quickly became impractical. The focus shifted to those parties willing to deconstruct the house and move it to another site where it could be reconstructed.

Similar to the Gordon House solution, the developer was convinced to donate the structure to the Conservancy, taking advantage of the income tax deduction, on the condition that we find someone to remove it before their spring construction schedule. While the Conservancy does not countenance the moving of a historic house to save it, we were comforted in this case by two overriding considerations. There was no doubt that the house could not remain in its present location and that demolition was a certainty if a move could not be arranged.

Because the house was a prefabricated building, it was not expressly designed for its site, as were Wright’s custom built homes.

The house was dismantled, loaded onto four trucks and transported to Pennsylvania where it sat for more than two years while a suitable site was sought. The pieces were ultimately purchased by the owners of Polymath Park Resort, an architectural community originally developed by Peter Berndtson (1909-1972), one of the original Wright apprentices. It is nestled in the heart of the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania and contains two houses designed by Berndtson and now the reconstructed Duncan House. All of the houses are available for short-term overnight stays.

While the Duncan House was sited to the same coordinates as the original setting, it was rebuilt using local fieldstone (historically one of the three material options owners could have specified during original construction) rather than the concrete block of the original building. So, is it the Duncan House in a new location? Probably not, but it is a beautiful adaptation of a Wright design utilizing most of the original woodwork and providing the experience of staying in a Wright house to those who visit the park.

The primary purpose for the Conservancy’s existence is to prevent the loss of another building designed by Wright, and to assist the owners of such valuable properties with their maintenance, conservation and preservation issues. We have been extremely successful at this mission during our years of service, and this article represents but a few examples of that success. With the help and support of our members and friends we will continue to do so.

Get more information on visiting the Duncan House

Posted on February 14, 2003

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