Wright houses in Hyde Park-Kenwood views (part of Around Hyde Park-Kenwood tour series).
History and Historic Preservation home. Wright Plus website.

The Robie House story

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its website www.hydepark.org and Preservation and Development/Zoning task force. Join the Conference: your dues support our work.

Views of Robie and Heller Houses (with Heller House story).


Programs at Robie House - Visit gowright.org. These include often rotating actvities on Saturday mornings, Wright 3 Mystery tours Saturdays at 1:30, tours of private spaces Sats and Suns ast 9 am, occasional Friday evening social hours and more.

Join the Wright Team, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. Lead tours, help visitors in Oak Park of at Hyde Park's Robie House. Fall training class forming. wrightplus.org, volunteer@wrightplus.org, 708 848-1976.



Robie House was nominated in January 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Unity Temple in Oak Park and 5 other FL Wright structures in the United States.

FL Wright Preservation Trust launches $3.5 million drive to finish the restoration of Robie House

At a November 22 2005 press conference, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust officially launched its drive to finish the interior of the 1909 structure widely called the "most important residence in American Architectural history." This will wrap up the effort launched in 1997 by then-Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and owner University of Chicago. The announcement was made by Wright Trust President Joan Mercuri.

What's to be done (More description below)? Return the 2nd story dining room prow to its original look, including custom-made brass sconces. Reproduce the square breakfast table. restore the inglenook around the fireplace. Redo wall plaster, paint, lights.

Governor Blagojevich has promised to turn over the final $200,000 of $2 million, according to State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie.

Robie House launches drive for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; elaborates plans for complete interior restoration

Hyde Park Herald, August 15, 2007. By Georgia Geis. Three-year trek marks tart of journey

After avoiding the wrecking ball twice in its 97-year existence, Hyde Park's Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., may be included in an international heritage list, which includes such sites as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and the Everglades.

Only the first formal step has been completed towards placing a dozen structures representative of Frank Lloyd Wright's career, which includes the Robie House and the Unity Temple of Oak Park, on the internationally renown United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage List of historic sites.

"The Robie House represents the birth of modern architecture," said founding member and head of Preservation Chicago, Jonathan Fine. Whether Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School-pioneering Robie House makes the famed list or not, it has clearly been established as a national historic landmark and an architectural masterpiece, named one of the 10 most significant buildings of the 20th century by the American Institute of Architecture. Further, amidst these accumulating accolades, the Robie House is also well on its way to being restored to its original glory.

Last year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust completed a $5 million exterior restoration of the home. The restoration include having custom tiles made for t he roof, copper gutters installed, tuck-pointing, an exact match to the original grout and repairing the structure from termite damage. Some features that were not present originally were added to protect the structure, like the water and ice shield placed under the tile roof.

"It has been a painstaking restoration effort which has involved a lot of research," said Joan Mercuri, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Now the effort has shifted to a complete interior restoration, estimated to cost even more than the exterior at $5.5 million. Restoration will mean finding all the original fabrics, colors and materials used in the home down to an exact match for the surface plaster. A model of the interior restoration is now on display for the public in the home's dining room.

When reflecting on the Robie House's colorful pasts, Mercuri said retired alderman Leon Despres was "instrumental in saving the house and we are grateful."

Longtime Hyde Parker Despres said he can remember the morning in 1957 when the head of Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) told him they were going to tear the Robie House down. "I was horrified," said Despres. "I had no idea it was endangered."

Despres as alderman at the time waged a full campaign to save what he refer to as "a leading architectural gem for Hyde Park." Despres is still actively involved in Robie House preservation, now by raising funds for the restoration project.

Mercuri has worked with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy for three years preparing the well-documented application for nomination to be placed on the UNESCO list. Founded in 1945, UNESCO seeks to promote peace through education.

Much like the long process to win the Olympic bid, it will take years to find out if the home wright envisioned almost a hundred years ago will be placed in the ranks of the Grand Canyon. "Thank goodness the Robie House was saved. People from all over the world come to see it," said Despres.


Robie gets $5 line of credit, to start the interior restoration. Tours to be largely suspended until spring 2010

Hyde Park Herald, September 3, 2008. New era for Robie House, Staff to be laid off, hours cut back for repairs. By Kate Hawley

In a sign of a new direction for Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, as of Oct. 31 the four staff members who run the museum will be laid off and the public will have less access to the building.

Restoration of the interior will permit only a limited number of tours and programs from November until spring, 2010, according to Joan B. Mercuri, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

The organization which manages Robie House, has secured a $5-million, five-year, no-interest line of credit from Park National Bank that will permit a more intensive schedule of repairs, which have been ongoing for several years, she said. A $5-million capital campaign for the interior restoration is underway to repay the loan, she added, and $5.5. million in exterior repairs have already been completed.

Mercuri said staff is currently hashing out details of the reduced hours and programming, to be announced by the end of September. "We want to invite the public in a much as we can," she said. Currently, tours of the building at 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave. are available every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

With the cutback in hours and tour schedules, the four guest services staff, led by Operations Manager Janet Van Delft, will no longer be needed, according to Mercuri. They won't be re-hired when the restorations are complete, she said. Van Delft declined to comment, but the news of her departure came as sad news to Noel Brusman, a volunteer docent at Robie House.... The construction planned in coming months will be more disruptive than work done to date, according to Mercuri. "It's not possible to keep the flow of rooms open" under the new restoration plan, she said, adding that the work won't allow two stairways to remain open, which would be a fire code violation. "I know change can be difficult, but we have to move forward with this," she said." "And it's going to produce such a great building."

More than the physical structure will be different when Robie House reopens in 2010 to celebrate its centennial year. Visitors used to "just coming into the building and hearing a description of what they're seeing" should expect "a more fluid model," Mercuri said. Though it's still in the planning stages, Mercuri said the revamped programming will be "more experimental," perhaps including performing arts collaborations and daylong sessions with a particular focus. The space may also be available to rent out for meetings, she said. Details are forthcoming in late September, Mercuri said. Top

Rethinking Robie House: Accelerated renovations and new programming are planned for Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie-style marvel.

Hyde Park Herald, September 24, 2008. by Kate Hawley

Frank Lloyd Wright;s Frederic C. Robie House is widely regarded as as jewel in Hyde Park's crown -- a prime example of Prairie Style architecture that's still considered modern nearly a century after it was completed.

Earlier this month, new plans for the building at 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave. came to light, raising questions about how accessible the house will be in the future and how best to interpret it for the public. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which runs the house as a museum, announced that renovations to the interior will mean limited public access from Nov. 1 until Oct. 31, 2009. Tours, now held seven days a week, will take place on Saturdays only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during that period. Robie House's four current staff members will be laid off Nov. 1, and management of the property will revert to the trust's headquarters in Oak Park, where it also runs Wright's former home and studio as a museum.

The goal is to complete the restoration, which has been ongoing for the last decade, in time for a centennial celebration sometime in 2010, according to Joan Mercuri, the trust's president and CEO. But the renewal extends to more than the physical structure, she said. Along with the public walk-through tours that make up the bulk of Robie House's current offerings, Mercuri said future visitors will encounter a "fluid model of interpretation" that could include anything from performances to renting out the space for private meetings.

The mention of private rentals sounded and alarm for some Robie House volunteers. "We have a considerable amount of concern, because we'd like to have it maximally open to architectural pilgrims who come from all over the world," said Noel Brusman, a Hyde Park resident and longtime volunteer docent. She's not opposed to interpreting Robie House in new ways, as long as the emphasis remains on the history and design of the building. "People are coming to see the architecture, not see people dance," she said.

Brusman and two other volunteers met with staff from the trust in September, and a larger volunteers meeting will take place Oct. 7, she said. Chief among their worries: that the house won't be stocked with replicas of Wright's original furnishings - which they contend would add immeasurably to the presentation of the house.

New approaches
Mercuri said a plan to furnish the building is in the works, but declined to give specifics yet, saying only, "The house won't be empty." And it will be several months before the trust will be ready to reveal what exactly the new programming and interpretation will comprise, she said. But the decision to offer fewer straightforward tours has been at least three years in the making. "Historic sites as a genre are changing," Mercuri said. "People are looking for different experiences."

Discussions in this vein have been taking placed through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which leases Robie House from the University of Chicago (the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust serves as the operator for the National Trust). A 2007 conference held by the National Trust, a nonprofit membership organization that represents 29 historic sites across the country, addressed the need for change if house museums are going to stay fiscally solvent and relevant to today's audiences.

The spring 2008 issue of the organizations's quarterly Forum Journal attempts to rethink house museums, from the way they measure success to the ways they engage visitors. So-called "velvet-rope tours," in which docents lead visitors through sites and point our their historic features, appear to be falling out of fashion. "I think that's always good for a houses museum," said Jim Peters, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, which operates Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., for the National Trust. "You don't want to get locked into the same approaches." Spurred on in part by the need to generate revenue, his staff is considering new ways to lure visitors to Farnsworth House -- even having them strap on showshoes or skis to get down the trail that leads to the site during the winter months, he said. After much consideration, they decided to furnish the house with just a few period pieces, he said.

Rolf Achilles, a curator, art historian and architectural preservation scholar who is part of the advocacy group Historic Homes of Illinois, recoiled at the thought of replicated furniture. "It's not a house beautiful presentation," he said. In his view, tours should focus on Robie House's cantilevered porch roof, which he contended inspired a generation of modern architects. "Put the house in its international context, cut the tour to 15 minutes, and let them stand in awe," he said.

"A legacy and a responsibility"
Although approaches to interpretation differ, preservationists, experts and volunteers seem to agree that Robie House should remain open to the public as much as possible. The university is committed to keeping the house open as a tourism draw, according to Robert Rosenberg, associate vice president for public affairs. "The Robie House, like great architecture everywhere, is something that people want to see," he said. University officials are currently in discussions about ways to highlight the architectural gems on campus and in the surrounding communities, perhaps through signage or other wayfaring devices. "We don't do a good job of highlighting the treasures that we have in Hyde Park, for reasons that are both historic and cultural," he said. "We want to do more, and the Robie House has a big role to play."

With the 2016 Olympic bid, there's a greater focus on the South Side, and telling the story of the South Side," he added. "It's a legacy and a responsibility."

Funding struggles
The university's ownership of Robie House means it is faring far better than publicly funded house museums across Illinois, 14 of which will close permanently Nov. 30 due to state budget cuts. Still, fundraising remains a challenge. the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust ended the fiscal year beginning in July 2006 with $4.8 million in its coffers, down from %5.1 million a year earlier. The biggest chunk of revenue -- $1.6 million -- came from tours and educational programs. Tax records indicate the difficulty of securing donations: Though the trust spent $323,078 on fundraising that year, it gained just $288,913 in donations. Those were disappointing results compared to the 2005 fiscal year, when the organizations pent $235,251 on fundraising and got donations and grants totaling $686, 404.

But good news came in recent months, when the trust secured a $5-milion, no-interest line of credit from Park National Bank. Those funds, which the trust intends to offset through a $5-million capital campaign, will allow the organization to sink time, money and personnel into the interior restorations at Robie House.

A major overhaul
Keeping the house open during usual hours while these intensive repairs are going on wouldn't be safe for visitors or cost effective, according to Karen Sweeney, an architect with the trust who is overseeing the work on Robie House. On a recent afternoon, Sweeney pointed out the S5.5 million in exterior repairs that have already been completed. The main task now is to restore the interior finishes, a painstaking operation, she said.

Every missing piece of plaster has to be mixed to look exactly like the early 20th-century blend of aggregate, sand and lime putty -- even though it will be covered by two to three coats of paint. The 35 light fixtures that are missing must be custom made with a mold that alone costs $10,000," she said.

The original magnesite floors will be replaced, built-in hutches and furnishings will be restored or recreated, and every art-glass window will be sent out for repairs. Sweeney said the trust is looking for period fixtures, such as a wall-mounted kitchen sink without a drain board and built in-tubs from the turn of the century.

It's an exhausting job, but every now and then a discovery lightens the load. "We found a really neat thing the other day," Sweeney said, pointing out a patch of original paint found behind a built in dresser in the master bedroom. Clues like these help create a sense of authenticity in the restoration, she said. "We try and approach the building just like we have a masterpiece of art, and we're conserving it."


Robert Rosenberg, UC VP for Public Affairs has said that Robie House has a major role to play in highlighting to the public our architectural treasures.


Letters: Robie House has duty to the public. By David Cameron, Hyde Park Herald, October 1, 2008

Your article of Sept. 24 regarding the restoration of the Robie House and the decision by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust to drastically curtail public access from Nov. 1 through April of 2010 is disheartening news for those of us who treasure Wright's masterpiece in Hyde Park. As a volunteer who has guided hundreds of enthralled visitors through the house over the past three years, I can only imagine the disappointed of those visitors from throughout the United States and the world who until 2010 will miss their only opportunity during a visit to Chicago to tour a building that has been designated as one of the 10 most important works of American architecture in the 20th century.

More importantly, however, is the question of public access once the restoration is completed. The trust maintains that historic house museums must change if they are to remain fiscally solvent and relevant to today's audiences. While this may unfortunately be true for many historic homes, the Robie House is hardly a typical house museum. Through the effort of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy here in Chicago, the Robie House was recently placed on a list of potential nominees by the United States Interior Department for recognition as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The only historic home in the U.S. that is currently a World Heritage Site is Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia. The public deserves that a building of such importance remain open and accessible to the greatest extent possible.

The trust also needs to commit itself to complete the restoration with the inclusion of the furniture and textiles that Wright specifically designed for the Robie House. To Wright, the building, furniture and textiles were one complete and harmonious work of art. It si ironic that a "curator, art historian and preservation scholar" quoted in your article dismissed the relevance of furniture as part of the restoration saying "It's not a house beautiful presentation" when Wright-designed furniture recently toured the United States as part of an exhibit entitled "Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful." Although practical considerations may prevent the original furniture now sitting in storage in the University of Chicago's Smart Museum from returning to the Robie House, quality reproductions of that furniture could recreate the dramatic interior that Wright designed and that has not been experienced in decades.

There is no doubt that the Robie House could be used as rental space for performances or meetings. But a building of this importance demands that he university which continues to own the property, the National Trust for Historic Preservation which leases the property and the Preservation Trust which operates the property ensure that the people of Chicago, the country and the world have the opportunity to experience one of Frank Lloyd wright's recognized masterpieces.

Volunteer urges "first" modern house remain open. Letter by Noel Brusman to Herald, October 8, 2008.

I am a 12-year volunteer at Robie House and am in agreement with David Cameron's letter to the Herald last week supporting the original mission of its restoration. A recent publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (America's Historic Sites at a Crossroads") advises managers of these sites against "velvet rope tours" and urges "varied ways" to utilized their "remarkable resources." This advice comes as a result of concerns that typical "house museums" are falling on hard times.

It should be noted that the Robie House, contrary to national trends, has seen increasing volume of visitors and is not as "house museum" in the usual sense. We have no artifacts that represent the Robie family or the other two families who owned the house. the Robie House is, instead, an architectural monument of huge importance.

Frank Lloyd Wright called the Robie House "the cornerstone of residential architecture" (worldwide) and "the first modern house" anywhere. In fact, the house is an example of modern architecture that was recognized by the European architectural community before it was fully appreciated by architects in the United States. As a result, the Robie House is a destination for architectural professionals and buffs from every corner of the globe.

Conducting tours for these visitors may be deemed "basic bread and butter" programming by the NTHP, but ample public access to the Robie House is not at odds with "varied ways" of utilizing the space. by "ample public access," I mean daily opportunities for visitors to tour the house.

Wright designed furniture for the Robie House and some of this furniture is in storage at the Smart Museum of Art. In keeping with the NTHP advocacy of "no velvet rope tours," why not leave the original furniture in safekeeping? Instead, by using high-quality reproductions of furniture and textiles, touring visitors could experience the house as the complete work of art that Wright intended and folks looking for alternate programming could enjoy music or dining events, seminars and fundraisers-- in the evening, when architectural tour are not conducted.

There need not be an either/or vision for the future of the Robie House. Maximum public access, replication of original furnishings an textiles AND "varied ways" of utilizing this "remarkable resource" are all possible.

One of (
four?) departed volunteers asks, why was it terminated? Letter by John Cameron in Herald, October 22, 2008

I am one of the Robie House volunteer interpreters terminated by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust on Wednesday, Oct. 8 as reported in the Herald on October 15. In your article, Joan Mercuri, the CEO of the Preservation Trust, is reported to have said that I and two other volunteers were terminated, not for our disagreement with the Trust, but for the violation of "an internal code of ethics."

I have received no response to my inquiry to the Trust to define precisely why we were terminated. I have examined the code of ethics applicable to volunteers and can find no possible justification for our termination other than th fact that we voiced our concerns regarding the Trust's decision to drastically limit public access to the building for the next 18 months and its failure to commit itself to the full restoration of the building, including the Wright-designed carpets, furniture and textiles. It is unfortunate tha Ms. Mercuri prefers to suggest that some other explanation exists for our termination when it does not.

The real story is not the termination of three volunteer interpreters, however. The real story concerns the restoration of the Robie House and public access to this treasure of American architecture. To Frank Lloyd Wright, the building, furniture and textiles were one complete and harmonious work of art. The restoration of the Robie House will not be complete without the inclusion of he furniture and textiles specifically designed by Wright for the Robie House.

The public is also demanding to experience Wright's design even while restoration is on-going. However, from Nov. 1, 2008, through Nov. 1, 2009, the Robie House will only be open to the public on Saturdays for four hours. Tours are possible on Sundays as well without affecting the restoration process. Yet the Preservation Trust apparently feels no responsibility to maximize public access. After Nov. 1, 2009, through April 30, 2010, the Robie House will be completely closed. The trust has provided no explanation why accommodations for public access cannot be arranged during this period.

Although I am no longer permitted to guide visitors through the Robie House as I have for the past four years, I remain committed to seeing that the Robie House is restored to Wright's original vision and that the general public retains the opportunity to experience one of the finest examples in the world of Wright's architectural genius.


mid 2009: New programs, expanded access for Robie House enabled by 5-year MacArthur grant

Hyde Park Herald June 3, 2009. By Kate Hawley

Lovers of Frank Lloyd wright's Robie House will soon have several new ways to experience the Prairie-style masterpiece: by snapping architectural photos under the guidance of a professional photographer or sipping wine as the sky darkens through the famous art-glass windows, for example. Seven new tours debut in July, funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation . The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which manages Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., received word March 27 that it will receive $250,000 for operations support, according to Adam Ross, a spokesman. The first installment was disbursed May 4, he said.

The trust aims to use the five-year grant to develop and implement public programs that will eventually be financially self-sustaining, said Cheryl Bachand, vice president of museum programs. The eclectic range of programs now on tap -- from presentations on Prairie-style artifacts to educational sessions that use Legos to teach basic principles of architecture -- reflects new thinking about how to present historic sites. The trust conducted extensive research about what draws visitors, Bachand said. It also participated in discussions about the future of house museums at the national level with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which leases Robie House from the University of Chicago. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust serves as the operator for the National Trust.

"The whole purpose and rationale behind the new programming is that the cultural tourist has changed," Bachand said. "There's a lot l more of a desire to interact with art and architecture in a way that's personal and meaningful." The new direction, while a striking departure for Robie House, is not unexpected. In September, Joan Mercuri, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, said that at some future point Robie House would scale back straightforward docent-led tours in favor of a "fluid model of interpretation."

Her comments came alongside other major news about the future of Robie House. Mercuri said then that a decade-long renovation project would mean sharp cutbacks in public access to the house, which would be open only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays from Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2009. three staff members were laid off, and the operations of the building moved from Hyde Park to the trust's headquarters in Oak Park. That had some longtime volunteer worried that Robie House would become less and less available to the tourists who flock to the landmark home each year. The complaints caused a flap that ended with the trust firing several volunteers.

But the concerns about public access appear to be unfounded, at least so far. In mid-April, the trust expanded its hours and began conducting tours from Fridays through Sundays. And with the new programming, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Thursdays through Mondays through December. The trust is currently seeking volunteers for the summer, according to Kent Bartram, director of volunteer services. In April 2010, the trust will throw a 100th birthday bash for Robie House. Renovations are slated for completion by that point, trust officials have said. Regular guide tours will continue alongside the new program offerings, according to Ross. Detailed information about times and prices for the new tours will be available in the coming weeks on the trust's Web site, he said.

The new tours:

Private Spaces In-Depth. Up to now the third floor of Robie House, where the Frederick C. Robie family slept and washed, has been occupied by offices and therefore off-limits to the public. The offices have been moved to the servants' wing on the ground level and the bedrooms and bathrooms have been opened up to small tour groups (10 people or fewer). The tour includes a discussion of the public and private spaces in the early 20th century, and selected opportunities for interior photography -- previously prohibited.

Engage with Artifacts. In this curatorial show-and-tell, visitors will learn about architectural fragments, drawings, art glass and other artifacts from the collection of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Picturing Architecture. Professional photographers wil lead these tours, which allow visitors to take their own photos.

Redrawing Wright. Small groups wil be able to sketch the interior of the home, led by a professional artist.

Designing Spaces. This two-and-a-half hour workshop is designed for architecture enthusiasts , who wil get to try their hands at drafting and design under teh oversight of a professional architect.

Lego architects. Educators will lead youth and families in exercises aimed at understanding architecture, design and engineering by playing with legos.

After House at Wrights' Robie House. One Friday evening per month, Robie House will be open late for wine and hors d'oeuvres. Guests can take tours or just relax and mingle. Top


Robie House story in brief

Robie House was considered by Frank Lloyd Wright his quintessential Prairie School creation, a work of both art and spirituality. The house is generally considered a turning point in modern residential architecture and has been voted one of the ten most important buildings in America- in its structure, as design, as integration of materials, as design for domestic life and layout of living space, as integration of structure and furnishings. All this can be learned in many books or in resources of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and its managing arm, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, or Wright Plus--visit their website. The Robie House preservation fight in the 1950s was the spark behind the city's first landmark protection ordinance.

When built in 1909-10 for bicycle manufacturer Frederick C. Robie, one could look all the way to Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Midway Plaisance a block to the south and to the University of Chicago's emerging campus a block to the west. There was a scattering of frame house on lands that had belonged to, among others, Marshall Field, and beginnings of a row of mansions on Woodlawn, "professor's row" houses, and other grand houses.

Frederick Robie went bankrupt a couple of years after construction, and the house quickly fell on poor times. In 1926, the Chicago Theological Seminary turned it into a dormitory. It's proposed demolition in 1941 was prevented by a (first) Committee for the Preservation of Robie House.

In 1956-7, the Seminary again proposed to replace it with a high-rise dorm. Wright visited and gave a much-quoted statement: "To destroy it would be like destroying a great piece of sculpture or a great work of art. It would never be permitted in Europe. It could only happen in America, and it is particularly sad that professional religionists should be the executioners...It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy."

Soon after, the City's new Commission on Architectural Landmarks named Robie House its first "honorary" landmark, although the commission lacked power. The Seminary's response was to suggest giving Robie to the city if the city would relocate it or to build a model in a museum.

Robie House was rescued (likely through the ingenuity of Julian Levi and arranged at a meeting in Mayor Daley's office) by the New York firm overseeing much of the Urban Renewal work in Hyde Park, Webb and Knapp, led by William Zeckendorf, for $125,000. Many Hyde Parkers, including newly-elected alderman Leon Despres and his wife Marian (Auditorium Theater, Glesner House), worked diligently for preservation and eventual restoration. Robie House was used as Webb and Knapp's construction office until they gave it to the University of Chicago in 1963. Two successive and notable uses were as the Adlai Stevenson Institute for International Peace and the Alumni Office. Both users took major, although unintended, toll on the building (as did misguided attempts to stabilize and tuck point the structure and Wright homes' notorious problems with leaks and collapsing cantilevered roofs). Robie House nevertheless became an international tourist and architecture/history-buff mecca and hopes remained for eventual restoration.

In 1997, the University, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, agreed that the latter two would assume control and responsibility to raise over $4 million for restoration and operation as a museum. In fact, sole responsibility, including raising 4-8 million dollars, has rested with the F.L.W. Preservation Trust. Most of the exterior restoration is complete and planning and pilot-project work proceeds on the interior. Regular house and neighborhood tours are given and there is a fine shop in the former garage. Director of Restoration is Karen Sweeney.

The House has recently gained attention as the locale of Blue Balliett's mystery, The Wright 3.

The Trust calls for volunteer docents. Contact Angela at 708 848-1976 x223 or volunteer@wrightplus.org. (or look in http://www.gowright.org.)There are regular training programs available.

Tour schedule: (detailed information 773 834-1847) (interior only except the vicinity tour. Last about 45 minutes.

Weekdays 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm. Weekends every 45 minutes 11 am-3:30 pm.

Vicinity tour Fridays and Saturdays 2 pm. Certain weekends: Junior Architect interior tours by trained junior high students (reduced cost.)


Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust Appeals to HPKCC

Report from the November 4, 2004 HPKCC Board meeting by board member Nancy Baum. More detail in following section.

Good news for Hyde Parker! We are invited to participate in the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust's program for learning by becoming "interpreters," or guides at the world-renowned Frederick C. Robie House located at 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave. It sound like a wonderful opportunity to meet people and show off a neighborhood of which we are justly proud.

At the November 4, 2004, meeting of the HPKCC, a group of volunteers from the Frank Lloyd wright Preservation Trust spoke about the ongoing restoration project at Robie House. The Vice President of Development, Marshall Jacobson, introduced the other members of the group: Jeff Grip, Chairman of the Board of the FLWPT, and Michael Rosen and Sue Freehling, both members of the Trust Board and prominent Hyde Park residents. Beth Haydon, a Robie House staff member, explained the details of the exterior restoration, completed at the cost of 4 million dollars, and outlined future interior restoration projects that will cost an additional four million. The completed project will yield a museum-quality structure which, when completed with the original furniture, presently housed in various other museums, will preserve this architectural gem for future generations. The house has remained open to visitors during the entire restoration project. It is slated to be returned to its 1910 splendor by 2007. The group appealed to the Conference because of our interest in public transportation, hoping that through our leadership we might suggest ways to facilitate transportation to the site. Also, the group hopes to encourage more Hyde Parkers to become members of the Trust and donate money and time.

Robie House tracts thousands of visitors to Hyde Park each year. Tours of the famous building are conducted daily. On Friday and Saturday the tour includes a walking tour of the surrounding area. Hyde Parkers are urgently needed to become volunteer tour guides.

People interested in becoming guides should call Angela at 708 848-1976 x223 or email volunteer@wright plus.org. (or volunteer@gowright.org?) Note that programs will be scaled bach in fall 2008 as interior restoration gets underway.



Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust describes and updates the restoration project.

By Gary Ossewaarde

Members of the Trust presented at the November 2004 HPKCC Board meeting. They pointed out that the site remains fully open during restoration, uses its store to full advantage to raise funds, and wants to do more extensive fundraising in the area. Among HPKCC Board suggestions considered after the presentation were improved transportation from downtown, signage at key roadway points, packaging/marketing a suite of Wright and other architectural treasures in the neighborhood, for example in a flyer, and other promotion (including for docent recruitment) including on our website, more combined cultural marketing and networking, and improvements to user friendliness at Robie House.

As explained to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Board:

"The goal of the Robie House restoration is to return the building to its 1910 appearance. In order to fully represent the architect's vision for the building, non-extant built-in furniture, carpeting, linens, and artwork, etc. will need to be found or restored. None of this existing work can be completed until we have sufficient funds in hand to complete the project.

"Total cost: Site Development + Interior Restoration...........................$4,000,000

"Breakdown: The following major area still need to be completed:

Art Glass - A total of 174 art glass windows nee to be conserved. Weather-stripping must be restored and wood sash refinished. Art Glass for the Front Door must be recreated according to architectural drawings.

Gates - Per the original designs, one set of Garage Court gates and smaller gates for the Play Yard and West Porch must be recreated and installed.

Light Fixtures - Thirty-nine reproductions of bare bulb square-type fixtures and 25 dome-type fixtures need to be created, an 32 vintage sconces currently onsite must be conserved.

Floors - Maple and bare wood floors must be assessed for condition and treatment before refinishing and replacing damaged or missing floorboards.

Exterior Bricks - Due to very poor previous tuck pointing, the bricks in some area have extra mortar on them. As the mortar is too hard to be removed without damaging the original bricks, this non-original mortar will be stained on the brick faces to match the original brick color.

Walls and Ceiling - Heavily cracked plaster panels need to be replaced with plaster matching the original composition and texture. Contemporary paint needs to be stripped, and paint matching the original paint scheme needs to be applied. Wood trim needs to be refinished according to historic surface coating.

Carpentry - Cabinetry units need to be recreated according to the original design. Period hardware and fixtures must also be procured and installed. Casework to be fabricated includes several doors, shelving, bookshelves, closets, and screen walls.

In addition to the above areas, there is much to be done regarding electrical, mechanical, plumbing, masonry, fencing, lighting, hardscaping, landscaping, and site signage. a detailed cost breakdown for any of these areas can be provided."

We were told that when funds are generated for interior work , a pilot project will be undertaken on a small part of a main room to be sure of what they are dealing with underneath the surface and that restoration methods are fully appropriate. The most expensive part of that phase will be the art glass. First, however, must come more exterior hardscape. In a brochure, the Trust continues:

"But now this urgent preservation project has come to a halt, only halfway complete. Without a minimum of $4 million in further funding, visitors of all ages will never fully experience how Wright's distinctly American ingenuity transformed the way we think about space, shelter and design.

"When the Preservation's Trust work on the Robie House got underway, it quickly became clear that the house's condition was calamitous, with extensive water damage, termite destruction, and irreparable brick and plaster erosion. After nearly 18 months of restoration and more than $4 million in public and private support, this icon of modern design has reemerged from decades of decay--but the Trust's work has just begun.

"The highlight of the next immediate phase will be reproducing and installing the steel gates Wright designed to link the restored garden walls. Other "hardscaping"--installing pavers and storm drainage, returning concrete to its original configuration--may seem lacking in glamour, but it is essential to maintaining the house's integrity. In fact, interior work cannot commence until this phase is completed. Cost: $1 million.

"To restore the spectacular integrated spaces, the Trust will conserve the original woodwork and finishes, restore 174 art glass windows and sashes, and reproduce built-in furnishings, hardware and fixtures--including 70 brass sconces. Cost: $3 million. As funding permits, we hope to further acquire, reproduce, and secure for long-term loan as many furnishings, textiles, and decorative objects as possible--fully recreating Wright's revolutionary vision.

"Wright paid close attention to the relationship between the Robie House and the surrounding natural world. To recapture his synergy, the Trust will recreate the original landscape by planting three disease-resistant elm trees, replacing grass and bushes, and filling the built-in flower boxes with the greenery depicted in the famous Wasmuth Portfolio plate of 1910. A new irrigation system will sustain the beauty of the site. Cost: $50,000."


Robie House is area's greatest asset

To the Editor, Hyde Park Herald, July 21, 2004. By Michael B. Rosen, architect

About twenty-five years ago, shortly after moving to Hyde Park, I was at a dinner party in my new neighborhood. Our hostess asked me if I liked Hyde Park. I said yes, very much. What do you like about it, she asked? I told her I liked the fact that whenever I felt like it, I could walk or drive by the Robie House.

Now that the house's exterior has been restored to its original 1909 freshness, walking or driving by is even more exhilarating. For this painstakingly exact restoration of the exterior we can thank the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which looks after the house, conducts tours, and is planning its next step, the restoration of the interior.

The Robie House is a masterpiece by, arguably, the greatest architect who ever lived. It is our community's greatest work of art, right in view, and open to the public.


The story of the fight to save Robie House in 1957, and today's house

As from the special retrospective edition of the Hyde Park Herald, July 21, 2004.

The surprising savior of Wright's Robie House

Crowds linger outside Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., waiting for one of three daily tours. Gift shop cashiers ring up Robie House posters, Robie House refillable pens and Robie House metal sconces. Volunteers request no one take flash pictures or touch the furniture. Strollers pause near the front of the house and inspect the plaque marking the masterpiece of Wright's Prairie style.

But the house was nearly town down 50 years ago. Only a determined and brilliant campaign led by a hastily formed committee of Hyde Parkers, including the Herald and then-5th Ward Ald. Leon Despres, saved the residence now considered by architects to be one of the 20th century's most significant structures.

In February 1957, the same month that Architectural Record magazine named the Robie House "the most important home in the country," the Herald caught the rumor that then-owner Chicago Theological Seminary planned to demolish the structure.

"One evening I got a call from the head of the Chicago Theological Seminary, Arthur McGiffert," recalled Despres. "He said he would like to see me first thing in the morning. So at 8 o'clock the next morning I went to his office, which was in the Robie House and he told me that the Chicago Theological Seminary had decided to tear down the Robie House and build a dormitory. Well I was deeply shocked. I thought, what an awful thing that is...And so we began a campaign to protect Robie House."

The parade of articles and editorials in the Herald began immediately. Feb. 13, 1957: "Rumors Circulate: Robie House Will Go." March 6, 1957: "Form Committee to Save Robie House." March 20, 1957: "Wright Visits Robie House." An editorial titled "Robie Fans Won't Shut Up" ran in May; the week after an article asked the U.S. government to intervene.

Then, December 25, 1957, only nine months after the campaign began, a headline announcing the rescue of the Robie House marched across all five columns on the front page, with a story about a surprising savior.

Previously a private residence for Frederick C. Robie, a bicycle manufacturer who paid $35,000 ford the house in 1909, the Chicago Theological Seminary bought the Robie House in 1926. The school turned it into a women's dormitory and by the mid-1950's was using it as a conference center and to house administrative offices.

Several Hyde Parkers, including Thomas Stauffer, Despres and Herald publisher Bruce Sagan, led by William B. McDonald, formed a committee to fight the demolition of the building. The committee launched a campaign to save the Robie House. The committee also began working to create a City Council commission to protect architectural landmarks in Chicago. Included in the commission's first list of landmarks was the Robie House.

The seminary hired the well-known firm of Holabird & Root to build the dorms that would replace the Robie House. Despres pointed out to the Mayor and the Herald that Holabird & Root had recently testified to the City Council in favor of the new landmarks commission and singled out the Robie House for its architectural significance. In a subsequent interview with the Herald, the Holabird & Root architect said he "couldn't remember" his testimony.

The committee brought the 90-year-old famous architect to Hyde Park. ("Wright," that article noted, "demonstrating his well-known humility, called the house 'a corner stone of American architecture.'")

And they encouraged a letter-writing campaign, asking everyone to write the Seminary and--importantly--the University of Chicago to save the Robie House. "We started a worldwide campaign," said Sagan. "Every time we said anything, we said, 'The Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago.' This was technically true. The seminary is an independent school with its own funding, but it is part of the allied religious schools. The U. of C. president then began to get letters from academic institutions asking how could he participate in the destruction of this important architectural monument. It must have been difficult and tiresome to try to explain to your peers around the world that it really was not you," said Sagan.

A Dec. 25th, 1957 front-page article noted, "The Herald learned this week that one of the leading architectural magazines of Germany, Werk & Zeut" printed an article in a recent issue which dealt with the importance of preserving Robie House. The strategy of getting continental architects involved was, said Despres, crucial to the campaign. "What tipped it was...the heavy response from other countries, particularly Europe. And so after awhile it created a great disturbance, the destruction of this great treasure of Chicago." The committee's decision to link the university to the controversy was a brilliant strategy, recalls Sagan.

Urban Renewal was just beginning when the Seminary announced its plans to demolish the Robie House. The developer chosen to develop the massive Hyde Park "A" and "B" plans--essentially the redevelopment of 55th Street--were New York's Webb & Knapp, Inc., headed by William Zeckendorf. In December, 1957, Zeckendorf offered to buy the Robie House for $102,000. The offer came in a meeting held in the office of Mayor Daley and attended by seminary president McGiffert, the Mayor, etc. (Daley was well-known for solving disputes by calling all the parties together in his office.)

Zeckendorff would use the Robie House as his headquarters during the 55th Street development. Then, according to the agreement, the seminary reserved the right to pass on any future change of ownership. The University of Chicago made a separate agreement with the seminary to allow it to use university property adjoining Robie House to the north on Woodlawn Avenue. The seminary's four-story stone and brick building, at 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., can be seen today.

"We do not know who thought of Webb and Knapp but our guess is that it was another of Julian Levi's remarkable solutions to problems. The university gets Webb and Knapp to buy it, use it while they rebuild 55th Street, and then give it to the university when they are finished," said Sagan. "We did not save it, just created the conditions which made saving it necessary."

In early 1963, after the developers had finished the 55th Street work, a formal ceremony was held to hand over the Robie House deed to University of Chicago president George W. Beadle. It has since been loaned to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and opened to the public.

The Herald's early articles and editorials stood in contrast to much of the city's reaction, recalls Despres. "What was striking about the whole thing was that there were a lot of people perfectly willing to have the Robie House destroyed," he said. "People should have known better." Fortunately, a group of Hyde Parkers and the Herald did.