Burnham and Wright: The Best of Both Worlds
By Chris Chwedyk
Frank Lloyd Wright started his first office out of his home in Oak Park in 1898. For several years, this Home and Studio has served as both a tourist attraction and as the central office of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. When Mary Ellen and I lived down the block on Forest Avenue, she became a volunteer at the Home and Studio, eventually becoming a Research Captain for two homes on the Wright Plus Tours, an annual event in May.
When we left Oak Park and purchased a small co-op unit in Hyde Park, I felt it was only fitting that I start volunteering at Robie House, the second of the Preservation Trust’s sites, on the campus of the University of Chicago. I was trained last summer and have been giving House tours since September.
When Frank Lloyd Wright opened his office in Oak Park, he realized that he also needed a downtown presence to be accessible to more clients. Wright chose the Rookery Building as the site of his Chicago office, located at 209 South LaSalle Street. In 1905 Wright remodeled the lobby spaces — striking a balance between Burnham and Root’s original ironwork and ornamentation with his own Prairie style concepts. The Rookery is Wright’s only executed solo project in the Loop, after leaving Adler & Sullivan in 1893.
This past December, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust opened a public information center, as well as administrative offices for the not-for-profit’s development, membership, events, communications, and guest relations divisions. On April 1, the Trust will begin offering free tours of selected areas of The Rookery and later this Spring will open a “ShopWright” gift store
Alex Westa and I assisted staff architect Karen Sweeney obtain approval for what should have been a very simple permit for installing Steelcase full-height partitions to add a conference room. Unfortunately, there is no good process in Chicago for obtaining a permit to do this work without going through the Standard Plan Review. So, of course, the plans got bogged down with some corrections. Karen states that, during the process, “Burnham was very professional, kept us continuously up to date and were very responsive. They were very helpful with their knowledge of how the City Permit process works.”
In the end, Karen sailed through the Open Plan Review and she received the permit one day before the contractor showed up to build the room. Although Burnham waived our usual fee for this work, we know that we helped in some small way in making the Trust’s new home at the Rookery that much more functional, and assisted in their work to showcase one of Daniel Burnham’s greatest Chicago buildings.
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