Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Prairie House in Need of Assistance

Posted on: May 31st, 2012 by David Robert Weible

From a building preservation standpoint, the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois, would seem to have it easy. The first of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style houses, it was most recently purchased by the Wright In Kankakee organization in order to establish an arts and education center and house museum that would be open to the public. With a mortgage financed by the previous owners who had fully restored the house, preservation work isn’t what the organization is worried about. Their biggest job is fundraising to pay back the loan.

This July, Elisabeth Dunbar, executive director and curator of the house, and her team of 55 volunteers will launch a capital campaign to meet their goal of raising the $1.6 million needed in the next eight years to fully finance the house. "People perceive that there is no urgency because there is no immediate physical threat to the home," Dunbar told me, "but now we’re going to be threatened if we can’t pay off the debt."

One major challenge to the fundraising effort is location. Though Bradley House is just an hour from downtown Chicago, it’s south of I-80, a cultural dividing line between the city and the rest of the state, Dunbar says, which keeps it relatively off the radar of Wright fans from up north.

Another fundraising challenge is that Kankakee itself is still recovering from the recession. Though locals provide plenty of moral support, donations are difficult to come by. "If we don’t succeed, my greatest fear is that it will be turned back into a restaurant and the historic fabric of the house will be lost," says Dunbar, who notes that the house is in great physical shape, but there’s simply no market for a seven-bedroom house in Kankakee.

Though the house, now an integral part of the community, hosts classes, poetry readings, and even operas to help sustain it, its need is still great. You can help by donating on the organization’s homepage or by attending one of the many planned events at the house like the juried art show on July 21st and 22nd where entry fees and portions of all art sales go to the foundation.

Interested in reading more about Frank Lloyd Wright? Check out our Spring issue of Preservation magazine.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

General, Revitalization, Take Action