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A curious street in River Forest – The Babuk Report

A curious street in River Forest

While some like to think that history has uncovered everything that it will, some still keep finding secrets to be told.

Are they, or aren't they...?
Are they, or aren’t they…?

The houses of the 700 block of William Street in River Forest seem different from their large, revivalist neighbours.  The two dozen or so small, simple houses are… Prairie School.  But “Frankly” Prairie?

It’s a mystery. Many neighbours are claiming that their houses are long lost designs of Frank Lloyd Wright.

... only Frank Lloyd Wright knows for sure.
… only Frank Lloyd Wright knows for sure.

The houses were built just prior to 1910. It was a ‘colourful’ time in FLW’s personal life and career; some major commissions were going through his Oak Park studio.  Purportedly, he was spending time away; he spent time at the Banff Springs Hotel prior to his commission for the Banff Pavilion in association with Francis C. Sullivan.  Something doesn’t seem to suggest that he would want to do two dozen simple houses – anonymously – when others were beating down the door for his services.

Apparently, the FLW Foundation Archives carry no record of these houses.

First Congregational Church of Austin, William B. Drummond, Architect, 1908
First Congregational Church of Austin, William B. Drummond, Architect, 1908

The FLW Studio spawned many students – virtually every architect, designer and craftsman in Oak Park at the time claimed to have worked for him.  William Drummond, Dwight Perkins and Walter Burley Griffin are well known architects who come to mind who worked under FLW in the Oak Park studio; EE Roberts and John Van Bergen may not be as well known architects, but were every bit as talented.

My thought – they were done by students of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The “Prairie School” – a phrase later coined by University of Toronto historian H. Allen Brooks – by 1910 had become excessively formal and rigid and, well…anticipatable.  It’s the bane of any contemporary Oak Park architect trying to do any sort of work in this town.  It’s so easy to recreate.  Since the River Forest houses are smaller, it may be an indication of a high style finding its way into more and more popular markets.

So there ya go.