Neighbors Struggle to Save Frank Lloyd Wright Homes After Dissing Pritzker

By Sam Cholke on December 18, 2013 8:51am 

Slideshow
 Kenwood neighbors are at a loss for how to preserve two Frank Lloyd masterpiece homes after rejecting an offer by Jennifer Pritzker to turn them into bed-and-breakfasts.
Wright Homes in Kenwood
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KENWOOD — Neighbors and Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts expressed frustration during a Tuesday meeting that few options were available to save two Wright homes in Kenwood after residents rejected a plan to turn the homes into bed-and-breakfasts last month.

At an hourlong meeting at The Ancona School, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave., historical and architectural experts said the McArthur and Blossom houses could stay on the market for another two years before damage starts to become irreversible.

“Once water gets in, damage starts to occur at an exponential rate,” said Pat Rosen, an architect with Rosen Architecture, who inspected the homes last weekend.

The early Wright designs are on the market for $1.1 million each and Rosen said any potential buyer would need to invest a minimum of $2.5 million in each house to fully restore it.

Last month, Kenwood residents convinced Ald. Will Burns (4th) to nix a plan by Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises to restore both homes for use as a bed and breakfast, arguing the neighborhood should wait for a private homeowner to purchase the houses.

Neighbors at the Tuesday meeting cautioned that the neighborhood would need to wait for a buyer willing to lose a considerable amount of money on the project.

Laura King spent two years with her husband, Benjamin King, restoring an 1888 Victorian mansion at 4812 S. Woodlawn Ave. She said they have been unable to find a buyer willing to offer enough for them to recoup the money they put into the restoration.

“People thought we were crazy, but it represented what we put into the building,” King said. “They really are costly endeavors.”

Anyone willing to take on the task of restoring either of the Wright home would get one of the earliest representations of all the architectural styles that would later make Wright famous, said Tim Samuelson, the city’s cultural historian.

“In these two houses, he had the budget and support … to be able to do things that created real masterpieces,” Samuelson said.

He said many of the interior details have long been recognized as the starting points for flourishes and patterns that would later define Wright’s work on buildings like the Robie House in Hyde Park. He said the glass panels on the sideboard in the McArthur House at 4852 S. Kenwood Ave. have toured internationally in exhibits on Wright’s work.

“These windows have been places that I have never been. They’re that important,” Samuelson said.

The meeting ended as neighbors began to debate what should be done next. Some thought the decision to nix the bed-and-breakfast plan was hasty.

Marty Nesbitt, a close friend of President Barack Obama, criticized the meeting for providing information, but no clear options on moving forward. Nesbitt and his wife, Dr. Anita Blanchard, opposed the bed-and-breakfast as an unwanted intrusion of commercial activity into a predominantly single-family-home neighborhood.

“The bed-and-breakfast is one plan that has been raised, but that certainly doesn’t limit other plans from being raised,” said George Rumsey, who led the meeting on behalf of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference. “Right now, we don’t know of any other plans.”

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