FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT TOUR – bravo, CAF!

Please keep back off the grass, ladies and gentlemen, people are living here.


In 1966 a few concerned Chicago citizens joined forces to save an historic house in the city from demolition. They won. The Glessner House was saved, and from the campaign grew the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

In 2010, 488,000 people attended their events and 284,000 took CAF tours of Chicago monuments. In May, 2012, so did Mevrouw T and I.

If we lived in this city, we would certainly become CAF members.

The CAF have 450 docents, volunteer guides, who do a fantastic job, running several tours almost every day of the week. There’s a boat tour of the Chicago River (to be reviewed in a later blog post), numerous walking tours, bike tours, Segway tours and our first choice, the four-hour bus tour to Oak Park, where Frank Lloyd Wright lived and built his first houses.

The house that Frank built. Note the geometric shapes, horizontals, the beginnings of the Prairie style. Thanks, docent Larry, for pointing it all out.

Photography is not permitted inside the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed to be his family home and studio. You’ll have to take my word for it that it’s well worth seeing, for its beauty and invention, as well as for its place in architectural history.

It’s remarkable that it’s survived at all. When the Wrights left (Frank had to get out of town after beginning a scandalous affair with a client) it was divided into rental property and the loving restoration to its 1909 state is still continuing.

Richard Bock’s sculpture on the outside – the storks symbolise fertility and wisdom. They worked for Frank – six kids and a fertile imagination.

Docent Larry took us on a brisk walk along Forest Avenue, where the young Frank Lloyd Wright designed a number of homes while living down the road.

I can’t praise these volunteer docents highly enough. Mevrouw T and I have done a lot of tours on our travels. We’ve often found pleasant enough people operating on autopilot, reciting lines they’ve clearly learned by rote. The CAF volunteers were extremely knowledgeable, but also enthusiastic, erudite and entertaining. They’re volunteers, after all. If they got tired of doing it, they could just stop. There’s no sign of that happening to Barbara or Larry.

And it helps that they have a great story to tell.

An early commission for Mr Wright – the Moore House.

The house next door – now those trademark FLW horizontals are starting to appear.

Oak Park in the time Wright lived there was an area for successful professionals, rather than the super rich. Times have changed, and a Frank Lloyd Wright house (the one at the top of this post) was recently sold for 4.7 million.

I suppose there’s some prestige involved in owning a piece of history, but it’s impressive that people are prepared to pay such sums, even given the inconvenience of having tourists snapping away outside their front doors every day.

A city ordinance restricts tour groups to maximums of 15 people, which the CAF docents strictly observe.

The FLW houses are not all even the most elegant in the street, but their influence is undeniable. This one on the right was his sketch for the masterpiece Falling Water.

Out tour ended at Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘little jewel’, the Unity Temple.

The Unity Temple is still a functioning church, but open to the public too.

Many of us come to worship FLW here.

Docent Barbara directs our eyes to the outstanding features.

…the lamps, in turn influenced by Japanese lanterns…

…and the stained glass in the ceiling, the same pattern repeated with quarter turns for variety.

On our 45 minute bus trip back to downtown Chicago, through the roadworks (according to Barbara, ‘Chicago has only two seasons – winter and construction’) Barbara regaled us with tales of Frank Lloyd Wright’s turbulent and sometimes tragic personal life and relationships.

Modesty, fidelity and reticence were not his strong suits, but now it doesn’t seem to matter. We enjoy his legacy.

So long and thanks, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation ‘Frank Lloyd Wright By Bus’ tour costs $55.

To visit the Chicago Architecture Foundation website and for details on other tours, click here. Highly recommended!

The writer was the guest of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Tourism and Culture.

4 Comments

Filed under Art, USA

4 responses to “FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT TOUR – bravo, CAF!

  1. Taliesin West in Scottsdale ranks high up my list of FWL houses I wish I could live in. Being a former architecture student, I had to fight the urge to move in right away, when I first set eye on that house. The lines, the structures, the marriage with the surrounding landscape are astonishingly beautiful. One day, I hope I can build my novels like he built houses.
    Enjoy the rest of your stay in the US, Richard!
    -Mina

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