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Case studies of houses saved
How many Frank Lloyd Wright houses has the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy actually “saved?”

This question is frequently asked, and it is difficult to answer. The actual “saving” of a threatened Wright property almost always involves significant publicity and a change in ownership.

Many “saves” are not readily apparent. For example, when we find a preservation-minded new owner for a property for sale through our Wright on the Market, is this a “save?” If, without our involvement, the purchaser might have been a developer, or one insensitive to preservation, then our efforts clearly led to those houses being “saved.” There have been dozens of houses transferred to appropriate new owners through our publicity.

Additionally there are those properties where we might not have been the channel that actually brought the new owner to the closing table, but where our intensive advocacy efforts were the mechanism that preserved the house’s availability or prevented its demolition, until that perfect buyer came along.

Case Studies
Auldbrass Plantation
B. Harley Bradley House
Avery Coonley Garage and Stables
Duncan House
Ennis House
Allen Friedman House
William A. Glasner House
Goetsch-Winckler House
Evelyn Gordon House
Westcott House


B. Harley Bradley House
An excellent example of this occurred in the fall of 2001. The Historic Preservation Commission of the City of Kankakee, Illinois, notified the Conservancy of an application filed by the law-firm owners of the B. Harley Bradley House (1900) to demolish the 3,100 square foot carriage house and stable behind this important prairie house. Many years of neglect had left the carriage house in terrible disrepair, with holes in the roof large enough to crawl through. The Conservancy mounted a national publicity campaign, garnering front page coverage in the local Kankakee papers, the Chicago Tribune, and even an interview on Chicago Fox News Network television. Many other papers picked up the story in a succession of follow-up articles. The Conservancy attended several meetings and hearings in Kankakee, and generated many letters of support with the help of the National Trust, Landmarks Illinois and Conservancy members. The publicity campaign was successful in encouraging the Commission to defer the demolition request on several occasions, frustrating the owners’ plans to tear the building down for a parking lot. Thus the situation stood through a succession of potential buyers and re-use plans for the building. Ultimately the entire Bradley property, house and carriage house included, was purchased by excellent stewards who have since masterfully restored the house back to its residential condition from its office configuration, and completely restored the carriage house which is currently being operated as a gift shop.


Allen Friedman House
Another example involved the Allen Friedman House (1956) in Bannockburn, Illinois. The house, one of the last designed by Wright and built after his death, was in excellent condition. It had been listed on Wright on the Market for nearly a year before a reporter called the Conservancy upon learning that a potential buyer had approached the Village of Bannockburn seeking information about a demolition permit. The Conservancy met with the prospective buyer and his attorney and discussed alternatives to demolishing the house. An intensive search was initiated to locate another suitable lot on which to build his new house, and find a preservation-minded buyer for the Friedman House. The buyer cancelled the closing at the last minute for undisclosed reasons. The issue had already received considerable local and national media exposure, which may have convinced him not to become the first person in over 30 years to intentionally demolish a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and to walk away from the deal. The house was placed back on the market. Within weeks, both the Conservancy and the listing agent received several inquiries about the house, and happily a suitable new owner surfaced who has lived in and maintained the house in excellent condition.

William A. Glasner House
The William A. Glasner House (1905, Glencoe, Illinois) also falls into this category. Owners who had completed extensive remodeling and renovation to this early Prairie house beautifully sited on a ravine leading to Lake Michigan, needed to sell the house within a definite time frame, due to the needs of a growing family. As the deadline approached and no purchaser had yet surfaced, developers took a serious interest in the property. The house literally stood in the shadow of a developer's bulldozer unless a preservation-minded purchaser could be found before summer. The Conservancy found such a potential buyer and a contract was signed while the interested developer was measuring the property for the new house he intended to erect on the lot. That deal ultimately fell through for lack of financing, but it bought precious time. Fortunately the right person materialized as a result of the Conservancy-generated widespread publicity surrounding this unique house. An inquiry came into the Conservancy office concerning other preservation issues, which led to a discussion of the plight of the Glasner House, culminating in the purchase the house. The new owner is devoutly committed to historic preservation and accurate restoration. The house has undergone a complete restoration, returning the house to its original glory.

Our proudest moments come when we are the direct cause of the house save. No two problems are the same and the solution for each is different. Some important examples:

Auldbrass Plantation
The rescue from ruin of the Auldbrass Plantation, a significant grouping of Wright-designed buildings not far from Savannah, Georgia, was brought about by a couple of founding members of the Conservancy prior to the organization’s official formation. The property was designed by Wright in 1939 for industrialist C. Leigh Stevens and built in the early 1940’s as a self-sufficient modern plantation for farming, hunting and entertaining. The passing years, several fires, disinterested subsequent owners and neglect left the property in almost total ruin by the 1980’s. A Savannah real estate appraiser, who became a founding board member of the Conservancy, was contacted in the spring of 1986 by the group of businessmen who owned the property as a hunting lodge. To get background information for her appraisal, she phoned the director of Fallingwater and future founding President of the Conservancy, for appraisal information on the nearby Kentuck Knob (Hagan House, 1954, Chalkhill, Pennsylvania), which was then also on the market. He became interested and visited Auldbrass, and subsequently attended the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Owner’s (the precursor to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy) meeting in Los Angeles that fall. One of the receptions was held in a Hollywood movie producer’s magnificently restored Storer House (Wright, 1923) in Los Angeles. “A little light bulb went on over my head” he said. With interests in both land conservation as vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture as director of Fallingwater, he was able to craft a solution with significant benefits to both disciplines. Through persuasion and negotiation, the owners were convinced to donate the entire property to the Beaufort (S.C.) County Open Land Trust, and the Hollywood producer was enticed to assume a mortgage and make charitable contributions to the Land Trust and Historic Charleston, as well as place a strict preservation easement on the property, in return for full title. Over the succeeding years the new owner has invested heavily in a complete restoration of the existing buildings and even re-built buildings lost in a fire and others designed by Wright for the property but never executed. This was the Conservancy’s first, and still one of its biggest success stories, three years before its formal organization as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation.

Westcott House
2000 was a significant year for the Conservancy and its mission. A large donation from Bruce and Lynette Haines, owners of the Lloyd Lewis House (1939), allowed us to establish the Lewis Haines Revolving Fund, to be used for preservation purposes. Its first use came just months after its creation with the purchase of the Burton J. Westcott House (1908) in Springfield, OH, an excellent example of Wright’s early 20th century designs. For years the house had been in a state of decline, having been converted into a low-rent rooming house after WWII. In an effort to preserve the house, the Conservancy worked for over two years with the owner to develop a plan for the stewardship of the site. Using its newly created fund, the Conservancy purchased the house in order to stabilize the structure and prepare a historic structures report and preservation plan. Early in 2001, the Conservancy sold the house to the newly formed Westcott House Foundation, which in over five years accomplished a $5.8 million restoration and now has the house open as a beautifully restored publicly accessible historic site.

Evelyn Gordon House

Close on the heels of the Westcott House transaction was one of our most widely publicized saves, that of the Conrad and Evelyn Gordon House (1957/63) in Wilsonville, Oregon. Upon learning of a new owner’s intent to demolish the house to build a new house on the 22 acre site along the Willamette River, the Conservancy mobilized a legal and publicity team to fight the demolition of the locally listed historic landmark. Under the floodlight of national publicity, the owners formally applied to have the house delisted in preparation of their request for a demolition permit. Conservancy board members spent many hours in negotiation with the owners. A deal was struck just moments before the delisting hearing was to begin. On the courthouse steps, it was announced that the house would be donated to the Conservancy in return for a sizeable tax deduction to the owners, and contingent on it being removed from the site within 105 days. With the house saved from demolition, the Conservancy now had to find someone to dismantle the building, remove it from the premises, and agree to reconstruct it according to strict standards and under a preservation easement held by the Conservancy. A national Request for Proposals led to three qualified prospects. The Oregon Garden Foundation in Silverton, Oregon was ultimately accepted. A monumental effort by an extraordinary team of volunteers and professionals over the next several years resulted in the documentation, disassembly, removal, transport of 25 miles, reconstruction and meticulous restoration of Wright’s only built work in Oregon. Today it is open to the public on the grounds of the horticultural complex.

Goetsch-Winckler House
In what may be record time for saving an endangered historic property, the Conservancy engineered the preservation of an important early Usonian house in less than one week. The Goetsch-Winckler House, built in 1940 as part of an uncompleted cooperative community in Okemos, Michigan, was featured on the cover of Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s In the Nature of Materials (1942), and is regarded as one of Wright’s most beautiful and significant designs of the last two decades of his career. Over the years the house passed through several hands and finally in 1996 to a foreign owner who, for various reasons, was unable to occupy the house for any length of time, allowing it to fall into disrepair. On a Monday in July of 2001, the Conservancy learned that the house was in mortgage foreclosure proceedings and that the close of the redemption period was just four days away. We were concerned that the Florida-based bank holding the mortgage might resell the property to a developer interested in demolishing the house to build a new, large home on the lot, located in a rapidly developing neighborhood. The Conservancy’s Executive Committee voted unanimously and without hesitation to authorize the expenditure from the Lewis-Haines Revolving Fund to purchase the house, which we were able to do by paying off the mortgage before the end of the week. We held the house for 18 months while, again using a national Request for Proposals, we received numerous inquiries and several qualified proposals, ultimately leading to the sale and long term preservation of this important house now under a preservation easement held by the Conservancy.

Avery Coonley Garage and Stables
Another rather unusual and widely publicized save involved the Avery Coonley Garage with Stables, also known as the Coach House, (1911) in Riverside, Illinois. In 2005 the house was still owned by its owner for 52 years, an elderly woman who wished to remain in the house. Her property was managed by the Public Guardian of Cook County. The house attracted attention when the Public Guardian sought to make much needed, but architecturally inappropriate repairs to the leaking roof of the 95 year old building. As the building is a local landmark in the Village of Riverside, the Guardian office's application for a new roof had to be approved by the Riverside Preservation Commission. At the request of the Conservancy, the Commission delayed a full review of the project and asked that other roofing repair options and materials be investigated by the Guardian and the Conservancy. While the different roofing options were being researched, the Conservancy approached the owners and award-winning restorers of the north half of the neighboring Coonley House, to ascertain their interest in purchasing the Coach House. It soon became clear that they were seriously interested. A purchase agreement allowing title to pass to the new owners but giving a life estate to the elderly owner, was approved by the Cook County Circuit Court, thus permitting her to remain in the house for the rest of her life, while allowing the new owner to immediately commence appropriate roof repairs. The Coach House has since been painstakingly rehabilitated using architecturally appropriate materials, and this transaction has allowed two parcels from the original Coonley estate to be rejoined under one owner.

Frequently, the best solution for an endangered house involves close collaboration with other preservation organizations. The shining example of this collaborative process is the dramatic rescue of the Charles Ennis House (1923) in Los Angeles, California.

Ennis House
Following serious damage suffered from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the house continued to deteriorate for lack of funds. Unprecedented rains in the spring of 2005 caused portions of the prominent retaining wall to collapse, and national publicity suggested that the house itself was in danger of sliding down the hill. In an effort to bring helpful attention to the house’s plight, the Conservancy petitioned for the successful inclusion of the Ennis House on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2005 Eleven Most Endangered Sites list. Partnering with the National Trust and the LA Conservancy, a new foundation was formed which was highly motivated toward the house’s preservation. Contacts made by Conservancy board members led to the new Ennis House Foundation’s ability to secure loans and guarantees sufficient to undertake significant restoration work. The Conservancy’s Lewis-Haines Fund helped secure the architectural drawings necessary to obtain building permits before stabilization work could commence. The Ennis House Foundation, strongly supported by the LA Conservancy, the National Trust and prominent LA preservationists, has completed momentous restorative work allowing the retaining wall, motor court, and chauffer’s quarters to be rebuilt, the house to be stabilized and much of the interior to be restored. The Ennis House has been saved through the collaborative efforts of many groups and individuals who could not countenance the loss of this extremely significant building.

Is it, or isn’t it a save? Sometimes that is the question. For example:

Duncan House
In the fall of 2003 the Conservancy was notified that upon the death of the original client-owner of the Duncan House (Wright/Erdman Prefab, 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, other news media, the BULLETIN and our website, we broadcast the imminent possibility that the Duncan House could soon become the first Wright structure in over thirty 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. First, there is 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. Second, because the house was a pre-fabricated 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 over 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 Frank Lloyd 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 provides the experience of staying in a Wright inspired 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 Frank Lloyd 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.
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