I served many years as an advisor for the Pleasant Home Foundation, and recall well when it was established to help preserve this rare 1897 Prairie mansion that is currently included on the list of National Historic Landmarks, that 2% of the most important sits in the nation.
I say “currently” because the building’s owner, the Park District of Oak Park, just ripped out its 125-year old Wisconsin white oak floors (3/4 of an inch thick) to replace them with whatever far inferior product is available in 2023. Other buildings have been removed from National Historic Landmark status for similar destructive behavior. My longtime colleague Steve Kelley discovered it and wrote the following:
“I was walking through Mills Park this morning and noticed the dumpster outside. Being curious, I looked inside and saw most of the first floor wood flooring that was clearly original and authentic cut into pieces filling the dumpster. I went inside and took some photographs and spoke with one of the workers regarding the scope of work for which I did not get a clear answer. I asked the supervisor why the floors were being torn out. He told me it was because they were “old – historic.” In my opinion this is a waste of materials and most likely in violation with state and municipal guidelines for treatment and care of historic properties. The original oak flooring was “old growth” wood that had been harvested from virgin forests in Wisconsin. This wood is far superior to any wood available today. It is not replaceable. The original flooring was in good to fair condition and could’ve easily been refinished for a fraction of the cost that is now being expended.
I am resigning from the Pleasant Home Foundation Board of Trustees and any involvement with the restoration committee effective immediately.I am asking this community what should be our next steps regarding this clear travesty to one of our authentic Oak Park historic landmarks.”
The local newspaper Wednesday Journal covered the controversy well. I think about all of the time I spent there, how careful we were to research and discover the history and materials of the house before we undertook any work, how a bevy of preservation experts were always involved in every decision for years and years. Now this. A National Historic Landmark treated like an amateur Home Depot project.
Twice I gave a lecture there comparing the work of George W. Maher and Frank Lloyd Wright, who had shared office space and who both discovered the new American organic architecture in their own way, Maher arguably achieving it here in 1897, three years before Wright’s first “Prairie” house. It has the horizontal Roman bricks, the flanking urns, the stained glass and overhanging eaves, the flow of one interior space into another and Maher’s own rich rhythm of repeated motifs in every detail
And it used to have real 19th century original growth Wisconsin oak floors.
What. a. gut. punch.