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An architectural landmark in a suburb of Chicago designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is in danger of demolition. The Booth Cottage, located in Glencoe, Illinois was recently sold to new owners for half its $1 million asking price. A Freedom of Information Act Request, ordered by the nonprofits Landmarks Illinois and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, shows that the new owners filed for a demolition permit just two weeks after purchasing the property.
The three-bedroom cottage was built in 1913 as a temporary housing unit for Wright’s friend and attorney Sherman Booth and his wife, while a larger unit the architect designed for them was being built on another street in Glencoe. After the couple moved into their permanent residence in 1916, the Booths relocated the temporary cottage from 201 Franklin Road to 239 Franklin Street, where it still stands today. The cottage is representative of Wright’s early Usonian style in its flat roof, banded windows, and strong horizontal lines.
Wright designed 1,000 structures in his lifetime, 500 of which were realized. About 100 of the structure were lost over time to decay, demolitions, and natural disasters. Last year, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lockridge Medical Clinic building in Whitefish, Montana was demolished despite the conservancy’s best efforts to preserve it. Similarly, the Carr House in Michigan was demolished in 2004.
The cottage was first sold in 1956 to Meyer and Doris Rudoff, who left the building to their daughter after their death. In 1996, it was declared an honorary landmark by the Village of Glencoe, but that veneration does not prevent new owners from tearing down the house, as it remains a private property. The structure stood neglected for decades until it went on the market again in Fall 2017.
“We were hoping to [help] find preservation-minded owners,” Barbara Gordon, Executive Director of Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. According to Gordon, the conservancy aided the realtor on finding a mindful new owner. The mutually-agreed high asking price of $1 million, she said, was meant to deter regular developers from buying and repurposing the property. “That kept people away for a while,” she said, but the plan failed when a new real estate agent took over and accepted a $555,000 offer on the house.
The conservancy also prepared detailed re-use studies that would allow building a larger structure without harming the Booth Cottage. The studies were shared with the realtor and the sellers, including alternative plans on how to carefully relocate the house.
Prior to the recent sale, Landmarks Illinois realized the risk of demolition and included the Booth Cottage on its 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places list. In that report, the site explained why it was considered “endangered,” saying: “The home is unprotected. The current owner is looking to sell the house and, due to its small size, it is likely new owners would demolish the house to build a larger one on the property. The house has already received tear-down offers.”
The demolition permit has not yet been approved. If granted, a 180-day demolition delay period will be triggered due to the home’s honorary landmark status. During that period, Gordon hopes to dissuade the buyer from flattening the house. Public records do not disclose the buyer’s name, but a clause in the sale contract compels the buyer to convene with the community to discuss the houses’ honorary status.
“We really want to meet with the owners and talk about how you incorporate the building in a larger home on the lot, or if they don’t intend to make that happen, allowing time to find a third-time party to take the house,” Gordon said. “But without strong protections, it’s hard to enact anything legal.”