Afternoon tour offers Wright alternative
Self-guided Oak Park Afternoon tours are available from 1 to 4 p.m. June 1. Tickets are $30. For more information, call (877) 848-3559 or visit www.gowright.org.
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:52PM
To the casual observer, Oak Park might seem like a one-architect town — All Frank Lloyd Wright, All the Time — but of course, that is far from true.
Wright was one of many gifted architects of his era, whose work stands (sometimes in stark contrast) alongside the efforts of other gifted designers whose buildings have passed the test of time in architecturally rich Oak Park.
This year’s Wright Plus Artwalk, organized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, offers participants access to three Wright-designed private homes (and three public buildings) along with an additional five architecturally significant homes designed by his contemporaries.
So, given the fact that the annual Artwalk attracts participants from around the country and around the globe, it’s only natural that the Wright Trust would offer tours of other homes in the area of interest to students of history or architecture, or both, who arrive in advance of the main event.
The Oak Park Afternoon program on June 1 gives participants the opportunity to tour the interiors of Hemingway’s birthplace along with Pleasant Home, one of the first Prairie-style houses, and the Cheney Mansion.
“We thought it would be a nice thing to offer people who are arriving from out of town, or out of the country, something to do if they’ve given themselves a day in advance,” said Wright Preservation Trust spokesperson Zarine Weil. “Since Oak Park offers so much in the way of historic homes that are not part of the Artwalk.”
Of course, the opportunity to tour these homes is available to local aficionados as well. All three are routinely open to the public; however, not as a package deal.
The birthplace of Ernest Hemingway probably takes top honors in terms of historical interest. The great American novelist was born in a room on the second floor of this Queen Anne-style home built by his maternal grandparents. And he spent the first six years of his life there, before moving with his family to a home across the street from the Wright-designed Oscar Balch House, where he was friends with the Balch children. (A photo exists of the future author as a boy, dressed as Robin Hood, with the Balch home in the background.)
“It’s a fabulous Victorian home, but of course there are a lot of great Victorians in Oak Park,” said Weil. “The Hemingway home is mostly of interest as the place where one of our greatest writers spent his childhood.”
Investment banker and philanthropist John W. Farson’s Pleasant Home is a 30-room mansion created by George W. Maher in an early prairie-school design that broke with the tradition in Oak Park of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes — featuring custom woodwork, a massive fireplace, art-glass windows and elaborate tiling.
The Cheney Mansion and gardens was designed by architect Charles E. White Jr., who worked in Wright’s studio early in his career, to be reminiscent of a gracious English country home, but with attention paid to Wright’s philosophy that a home should express the spirit of its natural surroundings.
“The Cheney house is a very grand country-home-type mansion,” Weil said. “It’s of architectural interest because it was designed by Charles White, who was influenced by Wright’s design philosophy.
“Mainly, though, it’s just a very grand, very lovely home. It also has a particularly beautiful garden that people always enjoy.”