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Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio visitor center rejected by Oak Park officials

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The controversial addition threatened two nearby historic properties

A low-slung buff-colored brick building next to an older structure. The new addition has a glass entrance and a grassy lawn with trees. John Ronan Architects

Plans to build a new visitor and education center next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic home and studio hit a snag this week after receiving a unanimous thumbs down at a special meeting of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday.

The commissioners rejected a request by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which owns the landmarked 1889 home and studio building at 951 Chicago Avenue, to demolish and significantly alter a pair of nearby structure to make room for the new center. Designed by Chicago-based John Ronan Architects, the proposal includes exhibition spaces, design classrooms and administrative offices as well as a new outdoor plaza.

The Trust was seeking permission from the village to tear down an older Victorian home and remove two additions from a home originally constructed in the 1860s at 925 Chicago Avenue and 931 Chicago Avenue, respectively. Both structures are contributing properties in the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District.

“The Trust understands that the commission is obligated to adhere to preservation ordinances, and we heard and are sensitive to the arguments of opponents to our plan at the commission’s special meeting,” said the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust in a statement Wednesday. “Our next steps are under consideration.”

The organization added that its plan does not put any Wright-designed buildings at risk. Other preservation organizations, however, are less certain about Wright’s lack of involvement in the neighboring properties.

“Portions of [931 Chicago] were added when the house was owned by Wright’s mother, during the time Wright was living and working next door at the home and studio,” said the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in a statement. “It is not known for sure if Wright was involved in the construction of the additions, but it is possible. Demolition of these portions would remove evidence for further study.”

Although supportive of the proposed center’s educational mission, other groups including Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have come out against the plan, voicing concerns that the project removes broader architectural context from the site and sets a precedent for future demolitions within the historic district.