It's funny how we tend to see things through the eyes of what we value and appreciate. My father (of blessed memory) had a keen eye and appreciation for architecture. When he would visit me in NYC we would walk through different neighborhoods and he would point out small details that I, as a pedestrian, would miss. Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright's homes and buildings were a favorite of his. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, our own Wright claims to fame consisted of the last "Prairie House" (the Allen-Lambe home) and also one of his last buildings (the Corbin Education Center at Wichita State University).
Living in Chicago, with a casual sensitivity to Wright's designs, I am constantly seeing how one person can affect a landscape. When I drive around the city, I can't help but see shadows of his designs (yeah, even outside of Oak Park). When I participated in "Bike the Drive" last month, I saw lamps on the bridges that were made based on Wright’s designs. When I pass through neighborhoods, go into medical offices, see front porch lamps, it's all about his Prairie House designs. He was gifted, brilliant, and revolutionary. That's why his homes sell for millions of dollars.
Having only lived here for eight years, I am fortunate that the neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs are a sort of treasure map of classic residential homes Wright designed. You can look online and find dozens of guided tours of Oak Park and the North Shore, and purchase tickets to tour the inside of Wright-designed homes.
Of course, those tours only show you the famous residences. I was searching online recently and found a series of small apartment buildings that were built in 1895 and designed by Wright when he was 28 years old. Located about a mile northwest of the United Center, at 2840-58 W. Walnut Street, are four out of five original four-unit apartment buildings called the "Waller Apartments" (named after Edward Waller, who financed their development). These were actually the first low-income apartments in Chicago.
When I drove to the apartments and stopped to look at them, I was greeted by a resident at 2840 W. Walnut. He asked if I was lost (I guess the yarmulke sort of gave the impression that I wasn't from his neighborhood) and I told him that I was just looking at the buildings. He proudly told me that his grandfather owned the one that he lives in. It seems that people stop by every so often to see these long-forgotten gems. It was a bittersweet excursion, since the buildings are currently not in the greatest shape.
I felt sure that Frank Lloyd Wright put as much thought, attention, and value into these apartments as he put into the Robie House, the River Forest Tennis Club, and maybe even the long-demolished Midway Gardens. Wright probably had no idea at the time that his home and studio was become a profitable tourist attraction or that his homes would become showplaces and status symbols. I'm pretty sure that he didn't think the "Waller Apartments" and surrounding neighborhood would become victims of neglect.
I often wonder if I am sensitive to the innate value of what I do, to the conversations I have with people, the casual exchanges with my wife and kids on a daily basis. I know that there is value to them, but it isn't at the forefront of my mind. Like most thing that I tend to do by rote, the meaning seems to slip away unless I make a conscious effort. So I'll try to take a page out of Frank Lloyd Wright's drawing pad and put value into it all, for value's sake.