Location:

42 N. Central Ave., Chicago, Illinois

Year Built:

1903

Designations and Legal Protections:

  • Chicago Landmark
  • National Register of Historic Places

Historic Significance: The Walser House is among the best of Wright’s early experiments with designs for inexpensive residences, which he went on to modify for several subsequent houses.

Wright’s 1903 Walser House in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago is a significant example of Wright’s work.  As noted in the house’s Chicago Landmark listing:

Built four years after the suburb of Austin was annexed to Chicago, this is among the best of Wright’s design experiments with inexpensive residences. Within a narrow lot, the house has all the features of his mature Prairie style: a horizontal emphasis resulting from deep roof eaves and bands of windows, a straightforward use of simple materials, and a spacious but efficient open interior plan.

Designed for printing executive Joseph Jacob Walser, Jr., Wright reworked the Walser plan for several subsequent projects, specifically the Barton House in Buffalo (1903), the DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana (a near-twin designed in 1906), and the now-demolished Horner House in Chicago (1908).

The house is one of only five extant Wright-designed Prairie-period structures in the city of Chicago; two others were demolished. It is the only Wright-designed single-family residence on Chicago’s West Side.

Current Threat: The property is currently the subject of a foreclosure suit, blocking efforts to find a new steward for the house.

The Walser House is currently going through the foreclosure process since the long-time owner died. Interest on a reverse mortgage taken out 20 years earlier had become unbearable for her heirs. The house has not been maintained since her 2019 death, and its condition is rapidly declining, with holes in the roof and water pouring into its living room. The stucco and exterior wood trim are crumbling and separating from the building and there are now gaping holes at the foundation level.  Every part of this house needs attention.

The house sits on busy Central Avenue in Austin, a neighborhood on Chicago’s far West Side. Just a mile east of Oak Park’s Unity Temple (part of a UNESCO World Heritage site), Central Avenue has shifted from a being a residential street to a dense and busy artery. The Austin community has suffered several decades of disinvestment, but is now seeing community renewal through planning efforts led by Austin Coming Together and Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning.

Designated a Chicago Landmark in 1984, the house is protected from intentional demolition, but the cumulative impact of deferred maintenance is seriously threatening its future.

Preservation Solution: The house needs to be placed in the hands of a steward who will stabilize it structurally and work toward its restoration and reuse.

The Conservancy is working with local partners Austin Coming Together, Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois to put pressure on the mortgage company and the City of Chicago.

Walser House Photos

Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-period house from sidewalk

View of Walser House from northeast in 2017

Two men on roof of Walser House by Frank Lloyd Wright

Assessing roof conditions in 2019

Arched entry to Walser Frank Lloyd Wright house in 2017

View of Walser House entry in 2017

Arched entry of Walser House by Frank Lloyd Wright in 2024 showing deterioration

View of Walser House entry in 2024 showing deterioration

Eaves and chimney of Walser House by Frank Lloyd Wright showing deterioration

View of the deterioration of the eaves and chimney of the Walser House in 2024

Base of wall of Walser House by Frank Lloyd Wright showing deterioration

View of a deteriorated section of base molding at the Walser House in 2024

Broken window at Walser House by Frank Lloyd Wright

View of a broken window at the rear of the house in 2024

Photo in the kitchen showing the location of a hole in the roof

Daylight through roof and ceiling hole

Detail photo in the kitchen showing the location of a hole in the roof

Walser House Timeline

April 2024

Meeting with Alderman

The Conservancy, along with with representatives from Austin Coming Together and Landmarks Illinois, meet with Chicago Alderman Chris Taliaferro, in whose 29th Ward the Walser House stands.

March 2024

Site Visit

The Conservancy’s Architectural Advisory Committee tours the Walser House with the owners and representatives from Austin Coming Together, Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago. The condition of the house is dire.

December 2023

Signs of trouble

We are alerted that a property management company has placed a sticker on the front window of the house. After a series of calls, we reconnect with the long-time owner’s heirs and learn that the property has entered the foreclosure process.

November 2023

Meet with Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

A representative from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) reaches out to the Conservancy to inquire about the house. They view it as an asset in their comprehensive planning for Central Avenue in partnership with the community group Austin Coming Together.

2020-2023

COVID pandemic limits site visits & communication with owner's heirs

Late 2019

Death of long-time owner

Early 2019

Visit to house to investigate leaking roof

The Conservancy visits the house several times with Berglund Construction and Von Dreele-Freerksen Construction to investigate the leaking roof.

February 2018

Condition assessment shared with owners

A detailed condition assessment, prepared by Wiss, Janney, Elstner (WJE) at the behest of the Conservancy, is shared with the owner’s family.

October 2017

Conservancy meets with long-time owners

The Conservancy makes an introductory visit to the Walser House to connect with the family that has owned it for decades and discuss their preservation challenges. We secure the pro bono services of  Wiss, Janney, Elstner (WJE) to prepare a condition assessment of the house, a process that begins in late October 2017.

2013

Walser House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

National Register nomination developed in connection with a historic structure report written by students of the historic preservation program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

1984

Designated a Chicago Landmark

This designation protects the house from demolition and makes exterior modifications subject to review by the City of Chicago.

1970

House purchased by long-time owners

Without their stewardship, the Walser House might have been demolished decades ago.

1967-70

Art glass windows are sold and removed from the house

Before 1950

Addition to rear of house

The addition is included in the 1950 update of the area’s Sanborn Insurance map. Photographs posted on the Wright Library, dated 1935-45, show the enclosure of the porches that flank the front of the house.

1903

Walser House designed and constructed

Posted June 26, 2024