Frank Lloyd Wright house, twice controversial, now sold

The McArthur House (right), recently sold for just under $1 million, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his early years.
The McArthur House (right), recently sold for just under $1 million, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his early years.

Staff Writer

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed McArthur House sold recently for $925,000, half a million dollars below its initial asking price.

The McArthur House, 4852 S. Kenwood Ave., was bought by a family who intends to restore the home and use it as a private residence, said Louisa McPharlin, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.

The McArthur House, and its neighbor the Blossom House, 4858 S. Kenwood Ave., were at the center of controversy late last year when billionaire Jennifer Pritzker offered to buy the two houses, put another million dollars in restoration into each house and operate them as bed and breakfasts.

A vocal and well-connected group of residents of the neighborhood objected, saying a B&B would bring a transient element to the quiet street.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) declined Prizker’s request for a zoning change and the deal fell through.

McPharlin said the new owners of the McArthur house are working with a well-known architect to restore the home. The exteriors of the home are protected by the Chicago Landmark Commission, but the interiors are not. Many of its architectural features are original to Wright.

“They are cozy, lovely homes,” McPharlin said. “They’re not Falling Water. They’re not the Robie House, although they are on the inside. They were built as comfortable family homes and at this point that’s probably what they should be.”

The Blossom House is still on the market. The price has been dropped down to $850,000. It requires more restoration work than the McArthur House, including to the south-facing porch, attic and interior spaces. Both coach houses need new roofs.

After the New Year, McPharlin lowered the price on the house below the $1 million mark.

McPharlin sold the house and also lived in it from the time she was 13 years old.
“I would come home from Hyde Park High School and there would be groups of young architects — my mother would be holding court,” McPharlin said. “They’d show up and she’d invite them in we all sort of learned quickly this was not just a regular house and it was very special.”

The house was one of two “bootleg” homes Wright built in the 1890s when he was 24-years-old. The exteriors mimicked more traditional homes — the McArthur House is shaped like a barn — but the interiors allowed Wright to practice themes and techniques that would later define him as an architect.

He did the work outside of his employment at Adler & Sullivan. His moonlighting would eventually lead to him being fired from the firm.

McPharlin had the opportunity to meet Wright later in his life when he visited WTTW, where she worked doing makeup. She told him she lived in one of his houses and he asked how she liked the sideboard in the dining room.

Wright returned to the home in 1900 to redo the dining room. He included leaded art glass windows on the sideboard that were early versions of his wheat motif.