Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Sky is Falling

Literally. Last year, a chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling of this great structure.

Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation creates a list of places in America that it deems "most endangered". It is their kick-ff event for May, National Preservation Month. I am very much into preservation but am not sure how much these types of lists help. I am also always overly critical of some of my favorite places that seem to never show on these lists.

This year, to my great surprise, Oak Park's own Unity Temple was listed. The "church", designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is still occupied by it's original congregation but restoration fundraising and work is overseen by it's own foundation (linked above).

It blows my mind that a Wright structure could appear on such a list. Now, I am not Frank Lloyd Wright nut. I admit that have a small soft spot in my heart for his Usonian homes but beyond that, when folks begin talking to me about Wright, I am sure you'll see my eyes begin to roll before the completely glaze over. With all of the great American architects and designers to admire, I just don't get it. Anyway, I am shocked because everyone else seem to just adore Wright. If you are around the OP at any given time, tourists are crawling all over these buildings like ants at a picnic. Folks just love to ogle at these things.

So why is one of them seriously endangered? The answer is actually quite simple. These buildings cost a lot of money to upkeep (staff, programming, cleaning). They cost even more money for minor repairs (plumbing, painting, tuckpointing). The cost of restoration and major structural work is, for lack of a better word, staggering. If a restoration organization is lucky, it has volunteers and general support so that upkeep is not an issue. This is where volunteers and local landmark lovers come in handy. If it is very fortunate, it gets a ton of tourists and other support to make repairs easy. This is where those oglers come in. For restoration to occur, it needs some major funds. In the case of Unity, something to the tune of $20 million. This can come in the form of a major "sugar daddy" or it can be publicly funded.

As I mentioned, I am not a Wright fan. That said again, I can't lie to you and say I don't admire this building. It is safe to say that it is one of the greatest buildings in this country, if not the world. No, I am not exaggerating. So, you're likely not a sugar daddy, nor are you likely overseeing appropriations of government funds, what can you do? Well, for starters, education is everything. If you have not been inside Unity Temple, you should go. All of our historic places can stand to gain a few more oglers. It also has to be one of the most affordable Wright Tours you will ever take at $8. I think that tours of Martin, Robie, or Home and Studio are almost twice that much. If you feel inclined to do more, you should volunteer for a local preservation organization as they could really use the help.

Each year, millions of Americans travel abroad in order to see great buildings yet they fail to appreciate the great architecture in their own back yards. May is National Preservation Month. Take the time to visit a landmark or historic site in your area and show your support.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a teenager I went to see Fallingwater in PA - and it is such an example of a maintenance nightmare that it even registered in my non-science oriented brain.
Perhaps with different materials it would have been different - but even I could see that so much steel was a bad idea in that damp location - can you say RUST!!!
But the general design of long low horizontals and going out over the creek - just marvelous for the location.

And letting the architech design so much built-in furniture may not be the best idea - he may have questioned the Kauffman's extensively at the time, but that doesn't mean that they will live that way forever - a home needs to be able to change with the needs of the family - the family shouldn't have to fit itself to the house.

Oh well - I probably won't ever have that problem - don't think I'll be having a custom house designed for me anytime soon - even if the stock market comes back in a hurry!

Cheryl
Orlando, FL