Revitalization

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.

 

Written by Dana Saylor-Furman

In July of 1900, architect Lansing Colton Holden submitted plans for a Beaux-Arts masterpiece structure to his client, Lackawanna Steel. It was to be the crowning jewel of the vast Lackawanna Steel grounds. Bethlehem Steel bought out Lackawanna Steel in 1922, and closed down in 1982 -- but the place still looms large in the memories of generations of Western New Yorkers.

Built of brick, terra cotta, and incredibly detailed ornamental copper, the elegant-yet-imposing Administration Building spoke to the power and influence of Lackawanna Steel owner John J. Albright and the giant corporation for which he secured the land. Today, that same building is in danger of demolition, and local preservationists are rising up to convince company and city officials that the building is still worth saving.

 
The entire site has been owned by Gateway Trade Center since 1985, but “Old North," as the Beax-Arts building was affectionately called, was allowed to deteriorate with little to no code enforcement by the City of Lackawanna.  The city recently condemned the building, claiming that its roof and floor collapses have made it a public danger. The Mayor and inspector continue to push for controlled demolition, wherein the entire building is torn down and sent to a hazardous waste dump due to possible asbestos and toxin contamination. No part of the structure would be reused or saved. ... Read More →

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

When I first learned that Annie Gray Dixon, a 17-year-old high school junior from Edenton, North Carolina, was hosting a "Paint for Preservation" art auction garden party to raise money and memberships for the National Trust, my initial thought was "Wow, what a great idea!" followed quickly by "Wait a second, I think I know someone from Edenton -- I just might need to make a road trip out of this!"

Turns out that my friend, a Carolina expat now living in DC, grew up two doors down from the family hosting the event, that his parents were already planning to attend, and -- small town that Edenton is -- that word had spread and people were already hoping we'd come. Reasons enough for me to pack my camera and head on down.


Paint for Preservation's gracious hosts: Gray, Sambo, and Annie Gray Dixon.

Edenton is an anomaly of sorts: a prospering small town completely unconnected to any major metro region or highway. There's a 1940s airport on the outskirts of town with antique vehicles parked in the lot for visiting pilots. The Taylor, Edenton's local main street (which in their case is called Broad Street) movie theater, still sells tickets for seven bucks a pop -- five if you're a kid.

There's no CVS or Walgreen's on Broad Street, but instead you'll find Blount's Mutual Drugs, where the pharmacist, Jim Blount, knows his regulars by name. Whether going to dinner at 309 Bistro, grabbing coffee at Edenton Coffee House, or shopping for supplies at Byrum Hardware, you're likely to run into Jennifer Harriss, the local Main Street director, who checks into all the local businesses and is passionately working to help the town's business scene thrive.

 
And so on Saturday afternoon, after a windblown (read: AC was broken) drive, we arrived in Edenton: the charming postcard town best known to outsiders for its 18th century courthouse (the oldest continuously operating courthouse in America, mind you), plantation and seafaring history, small business culture, and dynamic social scene -- into which, I'd soon learn, the evening's preservation garden party was intricately woven. ... Read More →

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.

Chicago Welcomes Mad Men Back in Style

Posted on: March 30th, 2012 by David Garber

 

After being off the air for a year and a half - during which time our attentions, rightfully, turned to Downton Abbey - Mad Men is back. AMC's iconic and more-popular-than-ever television drama is set in 1960s New York and revolves around the fashionable but unglorified daily existence of a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Part of the greatness that is Mad Men is AMC's incredible attention to detail in the costumes, music, and sets - which of course, is kind of a preservationist time traveler's dream.


The staff of Mad Men with our local Chicago preservation partners. Top row: Evan Regester, Chris Brown, Lisa DiChiera, Kristen Johnsen, Camille Bratkowski. Bottom row: Stacey Pfingsten, Hannah Allen, Jonathan Fine. (Photo: Bum Bul Bee Photo + Films)

On Sunday, our Chicago field office hosted a swanky mid-century modern Mad Men premier party to ring in the show's fifth season. Not only were our Chicago staff and about 100 other fans there in style, but the event - the proceeds of which went to support efforts to save Prentice Women's Hospital - attracted the attention and attendance of Mad Men Art Director Chris Brown, Set Designer Camille Bratkowski, and Graphic Designer Evan Regester. Check out the great photos from the event below!

 

Help us save Prentice Women's Hospital by Signing our pledge today.

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.

Theaster Gates' Art & Revival on Chicago's Dorchester Avenue

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 1 Comment

 

The 6900 block of Dorchester Avenue in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood easily could have been another casualty of the economic downturn, or another tale of a blighted neighborhood lost to neglect. But when Theaster Gates, Jr. rehabilitated an abandoned house there in 2006, he had a vision.

"I thought if I could just take care of my little house on the block, there might be some residual effect," says Gates, an artist, and urban and cultural planner. "I could share my lawnmower with my neighbors and help create a better place just by being present."


A night of jazz on the Dorchester Projects' reclaimed deck. (Photo: reallyboring on Flickr)

Two years later, as the economy and housing market took a nosedive, he watched one family after another vacate their homes. So he began purchasing and rehabilitating a few of them, slowly transforming his neighborhood into a vibrant cultural haven.

He started with the house next door. After restoring it, using original materials when possible, along with salvaged or recycled materials, he filled it with 14,000 art and architecture books from a shuttered local bookstore, as well as a collection of 60,000 images donated by the University of Chicago art history department’s lantern slide archive.


Theaster Gates inside the house on Dorchester Avenue. (Photo: Lloyd Degrane )

Down the street, Gates restored another home, creating what he calls his Black Cinema House. His own residence, now filled with thousands of LPs from a local record store that went out of business, doubles as the Listening House. A fourth house in his collection will eventually become an ad hoc soul food joint, a noncommercial space where Gates will host communal meals as a way to encourage conversations about art and culture. ... Read More →

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.