Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Robert W. Roloson Row Houses
by: chicago designslinger

 [Robert W. Roloson Row Houses (1894) Frank Lloyd Wright, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On his way to becoming the master practitioner of the Prairie Style, Frank Lloyd Wright was sowing the seeds of his signature look in a group of projects he designed in the 1890s. The Roloson Row Houses were one of those early experiments.

 [Robert W. Roloson Row Houses, 3213-19 S. Calumet Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Robert Roloson was member of Chicago's Board of Trade and used his grain merchant earnings to invest in real estate. In 1893 he acquired a piece of property on South Calumet Avenue not far from his posh Prairie Avenue address and asked Wright to either draw up plans for a remodel of an existing row of houses, or to design a group of rowhouses from scratch. There is a debate about which offer was made to Wright since the true nature of the commission has been lost to the history books.

[Robert W. Roloson Row Houses, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1940, historian Grant Manson was on the hunt for "lost" Louis Sullivan buildings. Searching on Chicago's south side, Manson stumbled upon this row in the 3200 block of Calumet thinking they may be from Sullivan's portfolio of work. The decoration on the spandrel panels were pure Sullivan, but Manson discovered that the project actually came from Wright's office. The young architect had recently worked for Sullivan but had been fired when Sullivan discovered that Wright had designed three houses on the side, which infuriated the older man who felt betrayed by his protégé. The confusion about whether or not the row houses were built from the ground up or were just reworked, came when conflicting reports surfaced about just what Robert Roloson had purchased in 1893, an empty lot or 4 attached houses. Subsequent scholarship has given Wright the "from scratch" authorship because the interior contains imprints of Wright's hand, the kind of detail work usually not seen in a remodel.
Roloson sold his Calumet Avenue investment not long after Wright put his stamp on the property. In 1964, as the result of a massive urban renewal project that was transforming the area, the Roloson group was scheduled for demolition. But the city pulled back in this four block by four block neighborhood, which as a result came to be known as The Gap. Then in 1979, banker James Hutchinson and his sister Dr. Janice Hutchinson, reassembled the properties under a single owner and began a renovation and rehabilitation project, urban pioneers in what is now the city's gentrifying Bronzeville community.

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