Monday, February 23, 2015

Peter A. Beachy House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Peter A. Beachy House (1906) Frank Lloyd Wright, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Walk the two blocks of Forest Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois located just south of Frank Lloyd Wright's first home and studio, and you'll have the pleasure of seeing the largest single cluster of homes designed by the Prairie School architect to be found anywhere in the world. Some are easily recognizable, with the creator's signature style writ large all over them - some are head scratchers. Is that a Wright, or isn't it? The Beachy House might fall into the not-so-sure category. Snuggled midway between Wright's home and studio at one end, and his first ground-hugging Oak-Park-located Prairie house (built in 1901) at the other, it looks nothing like either one. When this home was built in 1906, Wright was at the height of his low-slung residential fame, yet for the Beachys he shifted gears a bit, and gave the gable-roofed, red-bricked, and unleaded-glass-windowed design his seal of approval.

  [Peter A. Beachy House, 238 Forest Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Emma Susan Fahrney Pratt Beachy - or Susan depending on the source - was the only daughter in a family of five children. Her father, Dr. Peter Fahrney, was a very wealthy Chicagoan who made a fortune manufacturing and selling patent medicines, like Dr. Peter's Vitalizer, a line of products that have found new life in the collectible bottle market. In 1901, Susan, a divorcee with 2 kids, married Peter A. Beachy, who worked in her father's company as a financial auditor. Her son, Walter Pratt Beachy, would soon join with Wright's son John in founding the company that produced Lincoln Logs. When Dr. Fahrney died in 1905 he left an estate worth $5 million (around $125 mil these days) in an income producing trust to be shared by his children. At the time Susan & Peter were living next door to her parents and brothers in an 1890s-era, 4-story, single family greystone on Warren Avenue, a chic west side address just a block from Garfield Park. Flush with cash and a baby on the way, the heiress and her husband headed further out west to Oak Park, where they hired Wright to build a house for them on Forest Avenue, which it just so happened, already had a house sitting on it.

  [Peter A. Beachy House, Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School of Architecture National Historic District, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Mr. & Mrs. James Farson lived in a Gothic Revival Victorian with a generous side yard, the largest residential lot on Forest. After tossing around ideas to simply remodel the house, by the time construction was underway, the only thing left of the Farson house was the basement. Wright had recently returned from his first trip to Japan, and many have speculated that the break with his hipped-roof-hugging Prairie style in exchange for the Beachy gable was the result of his visually stimulating trip to the Far East. There has also been speculation that when the Beachys first came to the architect's office in 1905 while he was still overseas, their first discussions were with Wright's employee, architect Walter Burley Griffin. Therefore - this theory goes - the house was designed by Griffin, but before the drawings were finished in June 1906, Wright had time to tweak things a bit on his return to the Oak Park studio. There is also a story that Susan Beachy specifically requested that Wright's spectacular art-glass windows not be included, while on the flipside, some theorists say that the wood-mullioned glass openings are the directly related to Wright's recent overseas adventure.
The Beachys lived in their probably-Wright-designed project until Emma Susan's death at the age of 77 in 1941. Peter, who only gained title to the residence after his wife's demise, then sold the house, which was divided into two, income-producing apartments. In 1977 the Beachy house was purchased by Uwe and Gabriella Freese, just before Wright became the high-priced, hot-ticket item that he is today. In 1990 they undertook a partial restoration of the house when disaster struck. On August 2, 1990 just as the redo was winding down, a worker using a torch to solder a gutter joint ignited a blaze that brought 86,000 gallons of flame-extinguishing water pouring through the house. Undeterred, the Freese's decided to start over, and with a huge investment of time, money and meticulous care, brought the entire structure back to its 1906 roots.

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