How Wright came to Kenwood

Staff Writer

Frank Lloyd Wright came to Chicago when he was just a teenager. By the time he was 24-years-old he was designing his first houses, with the budget and support to explore his aesthetic choices.

Dozens of Kenwood residents came to an informational meeting on the Blossom and McArthur houses, hosted by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Tuesday, Dec. 17. at The Ancona School, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave.

Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago cultural historian, explained the history of the houses and their connection to Kenwood.

Wright’s first job in Chicago was with architect J. Lyman Sillbee. Samuelson said Wright only spent a short time Under Sillbee before he left to work with Louis Sullivan.

Wright married Catherine Tobin, a Kenwood girl, in 1899. They moved to Oak Park.

Sullivan offered Wright a five-year exclusive contract that offered him stability in his work.

Wright wanted to build his dream home for his new family, and he accepted a $5,000 loan from Sullivan for that purpose. To have extra cash, he took side work building the two “bootleg” Blossom and McArthur houses, 4852 and 4858 S. Kenwood Ave.

Each house, constructed in 1892, had an $8,000 budget. The extra income allowed Wright to build his home at 951 Chicago Ave., in Oak Park. He raised his six children there. Wright most likely met the owner, Warren McArthur, through his wife’s friends in Kenwood.

The windows in the dining room of the McArthur house are early examples of one of Wright’s most famous designs, the wheat pattern that would become his signature.

Those specific dining room windows were deemed so significant that they would later go on a museum tour.

The wood beads between the panels in the Blossom House not only break up the wainscoting visually, but allow the large wood panels surrounding it to expand and contract with the changing seasons.

Sullivan would later fire Wright for violating the exclusive contract they had by working on these two houses.

Wright opened his own architecture practice after that.