Thursday, February 26, 2015

Isidore Heller House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Isidore Heller House (1897) Frank Lloyd Wright, architect; Richard Bock, sculptor /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1897 30-year-old architect Frank Lloyd Wright was on a roll. He'd been practicing his craft on his own for the past four years, leaving behind a career as the head draftsman at the architectural firm of Adler & Sullivan with its steady paycheck of $60.00 a week, around $1,509.80 in inflated 2012 dollars. Which wasn't that bad when you consider that the U.S. government reported that the average weekly wage in March 2013 was $821.79. But his developing style was unique, attracting attention and clients willing to take a chance on the emerging practitioner of the so called New Style of the West. Plus with the standard architect's fee of 10% on the cost of construction, two projects a year costing $20,000 each would bring in more money than he'd been making working for Louis Sullivan, and more importantly, Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect was on the title block of each and every page of plans.

  [Isidore Heller House, 5132 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Out on his own and looking to feed his family and build buildings in his new avant garde style, required focus and drive. By the time butcher supply manufacturer Isidore Heller came calling, Wright had over 2 dozen projects built or on the drafting table, a handful of them a stone's throw from Heller's Hyde Park neighborhood. It took a special client to hire Wright with his crazy notions about architecture, and Heller was ready to take the plunge. Afterall he'd come to Chicago from Germany in the 1860s with $20.00 in his pocket and built-up a successful business with his partners Christian Wolf and George Sayer, so compared to those challenges taking a gamble on an up-and-coming architect wasn't going to be that hard.

  [Isidore Heller House, National Historic Landmark, Chicago /Image & Artowrk: chicago designslinger]

Wright hadn't quite developed his signature Prairie style just yet, but he was close.  The architect was exploring new ways to use simple geometric shapes and forms in an attempt to create an American style of architecture. He wasn't interested in just adding a Greek column or a Roman pediment to a modern building for the sake of reviving classicism, but he wasn't ready to abandon the ancients altogether. The frieze of dancing nymphs designed by Wright and executed by sculptor Richard Bock was a device that Phidias used on the Parthenon, but Wright added his own touch to the classic motif much as he did with the massing of the building. The column capitals weren't Corinthian but Wrightian - all with a dash of his Lieber Meister and former employer Louis Sullivan thrown in. This was no typical Queen Anne or Georgian Revival-style house - which were very popular at the time. The architect that Isidore Heller hired to design his home wanted to push the boundaries of accepted domestic architecture into a new realm.

  [Isidore Heller House, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Decades after the house had been finished, and long after Isidore and Ida Heller had left their home on Woodlawn Avenue and all the major players were dead, a serendipitous connection was created between Wright, Heller and Sullivan. In 1919 Walter Heller asked his father for a $5,000 loan to start his own business. By the time of Walter's death in 1969 Walter E. Heller & Co. was the largest independent commercial finance firm in the nation. His widow Alyce was given the task of overseeing the multi-million dollar Heller Foundation and in 1976 the remarried Alyce DeCosta gave the Art Institute of Chicago $1.25 million to restore and reinstall Adler & Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room in a permanent exhibit space at Chicago's Art Institute. A project the architectural firm was working on when Wright left their employ in 1893.

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