In Kankakee, Illinois, the Birthplace of the Prairie School

Alarmed in 2003 by a demolition permit threatening one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s groundbreaking designs in Kankakee, Illinois, the preservation community there leapt into action.

That’s because the Harley Bradley residence was no ordinary Wright building. It’s credited as the first to usher in his Prairie School of design. He was 33 years old at its time of construction.

Gaines Hall, a local architect and professor at the University of Illinois, purchased the house and stables, with his wife. They had no interest in keeping or living in the 6,000 square foot residence, but in preserving it.

They spent more than $1 million restoring the home, which was built on a one-acre lot overlooking the Kankakee River, fifty miles south of Chicago. It’s sited next to one of Wright’s earlier designs, known as the Hickox House. That one’s more traditional in look, with near-Victorian influences evident.

“It’s a very visual representation of his work,” says Elisabeth Dunbar, former president of Wright in Kankakee, the preservation group that bought the Bradley House from Hall on June 30. “Between the two, you can see Wright evolving to the Prairie School. It’s a critical piece in his body of work.”

The Bradley House features Wright’s trademark open floor plan, low horizontal roofline and ground-hugging exteriors. “It’s a complete departure from his earlier designs,” she says. “There’s a cedar shake roof, a stucco exterior and his signature art glass with a stylized tulip design.”

The non-profit Wright in Kankakee organization now offers one-hour tours of the Bradley House four days a week. The group has opened the home up to community events, meetings, weddings and receptions. They’ve also developed an education program dedicated to exhibits of art and architecture.

“We want to make it a living, breathing place, not just some stuffy old museum,” she says. “We want to open it up so the world can enjoy and appreciate it.”

The world will be there soon enough, to be sure.

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