With 15 properties changing hands this year, 2019 was a particularly busy year for Wright-designed houses.
The last several years have typically seen seven or eight sales per year. This year’s group was large enough to include a house from each decade of Wright’s independent career, as well as from each of the major periods of that career. It was also a geographically diverse collection, including houses in the Northeast, Southwest and various parts of the Midwest. Sale prices ranged from $600,000 for the Baker House in Wilmette, Illinois, to $18 million for the Ennis House in Los Angeles. The Ennis sale price broke the record for a Wright house. The record was previously held by the Storer House, also in Los Angeles, which sold for $6.8 million in 2015.
Beginning with early “bootleg” houses in Illinois, Parker House in Oak Park, and Clark House in La Grange, both from 1892, the group also included two classics from the Prairie period, the main wing of the Coonley House (1907) and the Baker House (1909). In Glencoe, Illinois, both the Booth Cottage (1913) and Booth House (1915) sold, and the American System-Built AA202 in Madison, Wisconsin, and ASBH-related Hunt II Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also from the mid-1910s, sold as well. The illustrious Ennis House, one of Wright’s 1920s textile-block houses, set a sale-price record for Wright houses. The last decades of Wright’s career were well-represented with the 1939 Sondern House (with 1948 Wright-designed alterations for Arnold Adler) in Kansas City, Missouri, the 1941 Richardson House in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and the 1954 Boulter House in Cincinnati. Two houses dating from 1955, the Kalil House in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the Hoffman House in Rye, New York, sold in the Northeast. In the Southwest, the house considered to be Wright’s last residential design, the Lykes House, sold in Phoenix.
While stewardship transitions can provide exciting opportunities, a Wright-designed property is most at risk when it changes hands. Preservation easements or strong local landmarking protected several of the houses that sold this year. The former owners of the Hoffman House helped ensure its preservation by making the donation of an easement to the Conservancy a part of the sale agreement. But, like Wright buildings in general, half of the houses sold last year are not protected from significant alteration or demolition. The fate of the Booth Cottage is still to be determined.
For this reason, the Conservancy encourages all Wright building stewards to consider protecting their buildings through strong local landmark designation or the donation of a preservation easement. Contact us at 312.663.5500 or preservation[at]savewright[dot]org for more information.
In late 2015, Highland Park, Illinois, resident Gale Rothner drove down Lake Avenue and saw something that concerned her—a notice for an application to demolish the George and Alice Millard House, designed in 1906 by Frank Lloyd Wright. The prior owners had marketed the house for sale for more than three years, but were unable to sell it. Potential buyers gave feedback that the house needed a lot of work and it did not have the conveniences that 21st-century buyers expected. Financially unable to carry the house much longer, the owners applied for a demolition permit from Highland Park by July of 2015. This would allow them to clear the site and open up the property to new development. They received conditional approval for the permit on October 8, 2015. Having listed the house on its Wright on the Market website since 2012, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy actively worked to find a solution to save the house.
“I thought, ‘This house should not be demolished, something needs to be done!’” Rothner remembers. In response, she took the most direct action possible to save the house: She bought it. Four years later, the house is in a very different condition than it was when she took ownership. Rothner and her design and construction team, including architect Douglas Gilbert, have given the house new life by making major infrastructure improvements and sensitively updating it to meet contemporary expectations.
Rothner and her husband Eric live nearby in a 19th-century house that they brought back from the brink of ruin, so she was not a novice to restoring and renovating a historic structure. Each project has its own unique challenges, though, and the Millard House was no exception. The previous owners had worked with architect John Thorpe on a limited basis to upgrade the house. Thorpe, a longtime Conservancy board member and leader of its Advocacy and Technical Services Committees, was well known for his careful renovations of numerous Wright-designed buildings. Rothner planned to work with Thorpe on the Millard House. After Thorpe’s sudden death in January 2016, she turned to Gilbert, who had worked with Thorpe and also had independent experience on several Wright buildings. Her contracting team included Landmark Construction and subcontractor Felix Pacheco of Highland Construction.