Thursday, February 26, 2015

Warren McArthur House
 by: chicago designslinger

[Warren McArthur House (1892) Frank Lloyd Wright, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If you didn't know it, you'd never guess that this was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. There is nothing about the profile of the Dutch Colonial gambrel roof that would lead you to believe Wright had anything to do with the place. The front porch may give a clue, but you have to be on the hunt for it, while the Roman brick became a popular motif in future Wright projects, he wasn't the only architect in 1892 using the stuff.

   [Warren McArthur House, 4852 S. Kenwood Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

But if you're at all familiar with Wright's career you might know the Warren McArthur house as one of the architect's "bootleg" houses. Bootleg because Wright designed the house while working for the firm of Adler & Sullivan where his employment contract forbid doing outside design work. Unfortunately, while the firm's head of residential commissions was a very talented designer, he was also a horrible money manager. Always in need of cash, the 24-year-old not only spent money like no tomorrow, he now had a family to support. Seizing an opportunity in 1891, Wright designed a house for Adler & Sullivan client Allison Harlan in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood. Then he took on a project for his friend Warren McArthur who was looking to build a new house, and lived in the same south side neighborhood.

  [Warren McArthur House, Hyde Park - Kenwood National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

McArthur was a decade older than Wright and had made a very good living selling hot blast tubular lanterns for the R.E. Dietz Company. The lanterns revolutionized lighting. Fed by kerosene gas, the enclosed glass chamber provided a stream of light under any conditions, and were perfect for a railroad worker to swing back and forth signaling the engineer that the train was ready to move. McArthur was also able to convince automobile makers in the late 1890s that the lantern would be the ideal light source to attach to their product. The salesman knew the revolutionary new mode of transport well since McArthur was one of the first Chicagoans to own a car.

  [Warren McArthur House, Kenwood Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

A building permit for Warren McArthur's $8,000, 2-story dwelling at 4852 Kenwood Avenue was filed on July 23, 1892, and the successful salesman, his wife, and three sons moved into their new home in December of that year. McArthur and Wright maintained a freidnship for years after the completion of the house, which may have played a role in youngest son Albert's decision to become an architect. After attending Chicago's Armour Institute and Harvard, Albert worked in Wright's office for two years, from 1907-09, before setting-off on his own. The McArthur family wintered in Phoenix, Arizona - where Wright would eventually find warmth in the winter - and in 1913 their oldest son Warren, Jr. moved west and went into the real estate business. In 1929 he and his brother Charles built the Arizona Biltmore Hotel - designed by their brother Albert. Wright had been consulted on the project because of the concrete block construction system he had developed in California, which the McArthur brothers adapted in the construction of their hotel. The irascible architect turned-up his nose at Albert's effort in the Arizona desert - when it suited his purpose. On the flip side, he also took credit for it - when it was convenient. Soon after the hotel opened the stock market crashed, then went into foreclosure, and Warren Jr. moved east where he designed a line of tubular steel furniture that commands prices upwards of $20,000 in today's collectables market.

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