Last July when I attended my first board meeting of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs in Chicago, I was able to accomplish my sightseeing goal of visiting Nauvoo. As the add-on to this July’s Chicago trip, I was able to cross the next goal off my sightseeing list: Oak Park.
Oak Park is one of Chicago’s first suburbs, about a half-hour from the downtown Loop by subway. It is where Frank Lloyd Wright started his career, interning at first with the architect Louis Sullivan, considered influential in his own right. For the first 20 years of his career from 1889 to 1909, Wright lived and worked out of his home and studio of his own creation, now considered the birthplace of the architectural Prairie movement.
The Wright home and studio are to the Prairie movement as the Greene and Greene’s Gamble house here in Pasadena is to the Arts and Craft movement. Wright designed every detail of his home and studio, from the murals painted on the walls to the fireplace tiles to the light fixtures to the furnishings. He considered it his “architectural laboratory,” trying out design concepts which would become distinctive elements later in his career.
Out of the many fascinating and beautiful features of the house and studio, I’d have to say my favorite one is this piece of furniture which is his own design in the living room. He created it to display Japanese wood block prints, which he loved. In my October 23, 2010 post, I mentioned that many of the prints in the Hiroshige exhibit I enjoyed at the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena were from Wright’s collection. I was interested to see so many manifestations of Japanese art and architecture in his early work here.
Within blocks of his home and studio are other homes and structures he designed or renovated, the world’s largest collection of Wright designs. An AGLSP colleague who is local to Chicago told me to be sure to visit the Unity Temple, considered one of his greatest works which isn’t on the Wright Foundation tour. That was well worth its own side trip.
But the entire town is a charming architectural playbook beyond just Wright’s work. A great audio tour of this historic district points out many lovingly preserved examples: a Queen Anne is next to a Classical revival which is next to a Gothic. I got to Oak Park to discover that it also is the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ernest Hemingway; who knew? And I happened to be there on Hemingway’s birthday, which the volunteer guide at his birthplace home was excited about. I was learning so much, I didn’t stop to eat until it was almost time to take the train back into town and make my way to O’Hare.
As much as I enjoyed last year’s visit, the heat and pace really did me in, and it took me a couple of weeks to recover upon my return. I took it as a measure of how much my energy and stamina have improved and normalized that I could be so hardy with all this activity in the heat and humidity this trip.
While in Oak Park, I discovered that my urban and landscape planning hero, Frederick Law Olmsted, created the nearby village of Riverside, with its collection of iconic American architecture considered “storybook.” Riverside, here I come, my next sightseeing goal when I’m back in Chicago for next July’s board meeting.