Winslow…and Charnley

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

“The Winslow House had burst on the view of that provincial suburb like the Primavera in full bloom. It was a new world to Oak Park and River Forest. That house became an attraction, far and near. Incessantly it was courted and admired. Ridiculed, too, of course. Ridicule is always modeled on the opposite side of that shield. The first house soon began to sift the sheep from the goats in this fashion.” – From Frank Lloyd Wright’s “An Autobiography,” P. 152 of the 1977 Horizon Press edition.

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I opened the 1963 Horizon Press edition of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wasmuth Portfolio which my dear friend Gene Szymczak (steward of the Hardy House) gave me a few months before he died, when I began writing this piece. The first three of the 100 plates are the landmark house he designed for William Winslow (1893, River Forest, Illinois, T.9305):

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What were you doing when you were 26 years old? As for Frank Lloyd Wright, well, he “shook out of his sleeve” a landmark house.* The Winslow House was not his first commission, but it was the first one he could proclaim as his. He had quit or been dismissed from Adler & Sullivan, and no longer had to hide behind Cecil Corwin’s name or Adler & Sullivan’s names (the latter, as in the case of the James Charnley House – Chicago, 1891, T.9101). I was given the privilege of photographing the house two weeks ago by its stewards who I am not naming, to protect their privacy.

This post was originally going to be solely dedicated to my recent Winslow House photos, but it evolved as I thought about Tim Samuelson’s “Wright Before the Lloyd” exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The exhibition includes a large photograph of the front of the Charnley House. I knew I would be photographing Winslow soon when I saw the exhibition. When I looked at the photo below, I thought that the entrance to Charnley was a bit like what Wright would design for Winslow two years later. Looking at the square windows on the third floor of Charnley also made me think of the windows that flank the front door of Winslow.

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As I looked at my 2014 photos of Charnley this evening, I saw enough to make me think that some of Charnley’s details seem to lay the groundwork for some of Winslow details. Since I started exploring this thesis and emailing scholars, they have affirmed my notion that in some respects Charnley can indeed be considered a rough draft of what Wright would do for his first client after he hung out his architect’s shingle.

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And, the front doors, both highly oranmented (although Winslow is not as stylized as the more narrow Charnley door):

Charnley:

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Winslow:

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And what about the arches that flank the inglenook and fireplaces that warm us after entering each house? In each house the left arch precedes a staircase. First, Charnley, then Winslow (Winslow is undergoing interior restoration which is why some wall surfaces are unfinished):

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Arched passageways, first in Charnley, then in Winslow:

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Unlike Winslow, Charnley has an atrium, but both have wood screens on their staircases:

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Winslow:

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After those comparisons of Charnley and Winslow, I return to the original theme of this post, a photo gallery of my new Winslow photos:

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Back inside the house, we start at the inglenook again:

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Winslow House 10.28.20 063.jpgThis original thermometer (Winslow was a metal fabricator) still works:

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I am not showing many interior spaces, to respect the stewards’ privacy:

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One of my favorite features of the house is the octagonal staircase in the stair tower:

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Allow me one more comparison, to the ceiling in the drafting room at the Home and Studio (Oake Park, 1897, T.9506)…both are octagonal:

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The stable, first viewed through the dining room bay windows and through the windows on the rear stair tower:

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The stable, framed by the porte-cochère:

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I photographed the fireplace in Unity House (at Unity Temple) a few weeks ago. Heidi Ruehle told me that there supposed to be a mural around the fireplace. Unadorned, it made me think of the entry to the Winslow House where I would be taking pictures that afternoon:

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“When I first laid eyes on the Winslow House from the street (as a 22-year-old architecture student), I felt like I was in a church, the presence viewed from the street was so powerful. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wright building that impacted me in that manner. It was a powerful experience.” – Randolph C. Henning, architect and Frank Lloyd Wright author and scholar, in an interview with the author, November 10, 2020.

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*There are numerous references in the Wright literature to him “shaking” designs “out of his sleeve.”

Web Links:

The stewards of the Winslow House sent me this link to a comparison between Charnley and Winslow after I wrote them that my essay was turning in that direction:

http://chicagopatterns.com/louis-sullivan-frank-lloyd-wright-charnley-house-part-3/

“Wright Before the Lloyd” Exhibition at the Elmhurst, Illinois, Art Museum:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org/exhibitions/wright-before-lloyd/

Unity Temple – A Visual Interpretation

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Many people define Frank Lloyd Wright’s career by his residential architecture and how it often embraced the surrounding landscape. His public buildings are no less important. In contrast to his residential architecture, they turn to the inside, sheltering the worshippers or workers inside from the noise and grit of the neighborhood.

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I was invited to photograph Unity Temple in Oak Park a year ago by Heidi Ruehle, Executive Director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, at the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference. I took her up on her invitation this week. I purposely did not look at other photographs of the building – especially the contemporary ones in Robert McCarter’s monograph for Phaidon’s Architecure in Detail series (1997) before my own photographic exploration of the building. Details of  books about Unity Temple are in a bibliography at the conclusion of this article.

Before you look at how I saw Unity Temple, consider Paul Hendrickson’s words in his book “Plagued by Fire:” “No single piece of Wright architecture moves me more. . . .In a way it’s like emerging from the tunnels of an old ballpark and feeling overwhelmed by the sight of the perfect napkin of clipped sunlit green before you. Only it’s as if the ‘diamond’ has somehow been suspended in air.”

Made of poured concrete, and built between 1906 and 1908, Unity Temple stands in striking contrast to the typical church of the day. The commission for Unity Temple came because Unity Church, its predecssor building (1872) burned down in 1905 after its steeple was stuck by lightning (historic photos courtesy of Unity Temple Restoration Foundation):

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Oh, what a stir Mr. Wright’s church made! Consider that when First United Church of Oak Park built its new home across the street fron Unity Temple in 1918, two years after its first home burned down, it chose a traditional ecclesiastical design:

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Wright’s powerful, non-traditional design surely startled congregants when they came to Unity Temple for the first time. Unitarian Universalists challenge many of society’s accepted norms, so why shouldn’t their church challenge traditional architecture? The lack of fenestration – except for clerestory windows – gives no hint of what lies inside.

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As congregants walk in the “front” door, on what would traditionally be considered the side of the building, they read words that embody the Unitarian ideal: For the worship of God [the temple] and the service of man [the fellowship hall]:

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It is indeed a “path of discovery” or “compression and release” to repeat oft-used phrases to describe entry into Wright buildings.Wright brings us into a foyer with a low ceiling. Unity House, a fellowship hall and Sunday school space, is clearly visible to our right.

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The church itself is to our left – but we cannot see the sanctuary. We first go into a narrow hallway, turn, and then up several steps into the sanctuary. Hendrickson’s baseball analogy is vivid. This is the view before we ascend to the sanctuary:

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Or, on a visit like mine, Ruehle will open the doors hidden in a panel behind the pulpit, through which congregants leave after services, and let us peek in:

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Panoramic phone-camera photos show the sanctuary before we explore the architecture in greater detail:

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Although we are attracted to the building’s architecture – it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019 –  we must not forget that the building was designed as a house of worship:

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The minister’s lectern, and the view from the pulpit:

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The stucco walls and wood trim draw one’s eyes up to the ceiling and light fixtures:

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I am gobsmacked by the intricate detail in the hanging and wiring of the lights:

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And then the sun made the ceiling glow:

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Unity House: A fireplace is opposite us as we enter the hall. Ruehle explains that there was supposed to be a mural around the lower part. I told her that it reminded me a bit of the front of the Winslow House (which I was going to photograph that afternoon):

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A sign in one of the classrooms upstairs speaks as much to Wright’s landmark design as it does to the students!

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Unity Temple Restoration Foundation Web Site:

https://www.utrf.org

@flwunitytemple

Bibliography…and I urge you to try a local bookshop before reflexively ordering from the Big A:

Hendrickson, Paul, Plagued by Fire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019).

McCarter, Robert: Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright – Architecture in Detail Series (London: Phaidon Press, 1997).

Siry, Joseph M.: Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture for Liberal Religion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Sokol, David: The Noble Room – The Inspired Conception and Tumultuous Creation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (Top Five Books, 2008).