The Battle To Save A Frank Lloyd Wright Classic
The B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois may not look like much to the uninitiated but preservationists interested in preserving the legacy of architect Frank Lloyd Wright want to make sure it has a new life as a house museum and arts education center. Some say that the home marks the beginning of the architect's Prairie Style.
Pieces of the home have already been removed and auctioned off. Years ago Barbra Streisand paid $176,000 for its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed desk. This week a pair of leaded-glass windows, removed from the dining room sideboard years ago, sold for $15,000 at Christie's New York. Blair Kamin, who writes the Chicago Tribune's Cityscapes blog reports that a University of Illinois architecture professor and his wife hope to turn the house over to activists to create a Frank Lloyd Wright center. They want $1.9 million, a price which would make this one of the town's top properties.
The nonprofit Wright in Kankakee foundation hopes to raise $170,000 by June for a down payment. So far they've got around $70,000. While the exterior of the seven-bedroom structure may seem a bit humble (it's no Fallingwater), the interior is another matter. The home features many of Wright's beautiful art glass windows and the elegantly-proportioned rooms are full of Wright's carefully crafted wood built-in pieces.
The home has an interesting history, its namesake was the grandson of a Chicago farm implement manufacturer who in the late 19th century moved his factory into the area. Later the home was owned by a president of the National Audubon Society who used the house's stable into a bird-house factory. In the 1950s it became a restaurant. The story takes a macabre turn in 1987. Stephen Small bought the home in 1986 to create a bed and breakfast but one night in 1987 kidnappers lured him to the house and then buried him alive in a box in a wooded area while they held him for ransom. Sadly Small's box did not have adequate ventilation and he died. The home was later used as law offices and then finally in 2005 Gaines and Sharon Hall bought Bradley House to save and restore it. The couple has put more than $1 million into restoration and in 2009 the Bradley House was put on the National Register of Historic Places. The Halls put the house on the market last year but no one was interested. The area is also full of Wright house museums and in a time when smaller museums have been closing left and right, can the local economy support another? Should the activists succeed in their quest they will still have to find a way to help the property become self-sustaining.
A number of Frank Lloyd Wright homes have stayed on the market for years. Two in the Los Angeles area alone have been on the market for a while and faced large price cuts and the Save Wright website has a list of Wright homes for sale around the U.S.