Razing River Forest

July 12, 2008 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1162

Well, that lovely little Drummond Prairie House on the 1100 block of Park is still there months after fencing went around it, but one of River Forest’s best Moderne houses went down quite suddenly a week or so ago.

This gem, on the corner of Division and Ashland, vanished with short notice and certainly takes a notch off the suburb’s architectural value. They knock’em quick on Ashland – in our survey this Spring we suggested amending the district to exclude one house – formerly in the National Register District with its neighbor – because they razed the neighbor overnight for a pool a couple of years ago. Two blocks to the north, same story this summer. I guess public outrage at teardowns has finally reached a broad enough swath of the publication that those who will do it must do it quickly and darkly.

The pictured house at Division and Ashland was an excellent example of the postwar triumph of the “International Style” or “Arte Moderne” with its prominent horizontals and celebration of modern building materials. The staircase march of casement windows seen to the right was fantastic.

So River Forest is less architecturally significant than it was a few weeks ago. Even the recent claims that the 700 block of William was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright can’t add enough cachet to make up for this loss. After all, the 700 block of William is there, it is a Prairie gem of unparalleled proportions, and whether it was designed by Harry Robinson and William Drummond, who both worked in Wright’s studio or Wright himself (who also worked there) is an academic question. The fact of that block overshadows any authorship and its value remains as an excellent and surprisingly large and intact example of the Wrightian Prairie Style of the 1910s. Besides, the new claims are not based on evidence but connoisseurship – basically an informed study of the houses that finds more similarities to Wright than his students.

When Marion Mahony began making claims in the 1940s that Walter Burley Griffin had designed several of Wright’s projects, former apprentice Barry Byrne (who briefly worked with Drummond as well) dismissed these various claims of authorship as “absurd. We all (Drummond particularly) initiated designs while there, but we followed Wright’s other work and manner in doing so.” That is the trick to connoisseurship – it is very useful if you are trying to detect “fakes” but less helpful in distinguishing between similar and contemporaneous authentic originals. The 700 block of William is an authentic original Prairie School treasure, not a fake.

I still have to get to posting more info about Pingyao, where of course they have similar issues….

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