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Historic Wilmette Home Could Be Spared From Wrecking Ball

WILMETTE, Ill. (CBS) -- A contractor who specializes in tear-downs is buying a historic Prairie-style home and cottage on adjoining lots in east Wilmette, but preservationists say the chances for saving both are looking good.

"Things are looking much better than when he first started," said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois.

Frank Lloyd Wright himself signed Rudolph Schindler's drawings for the 1920-vintage cottage, designated a "temporary residence," said Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Executive Director Janet Halstead. Associate John Van Bergen used Wright's 1908 Isabel Roberts home, in River Forest, as his inspiration when building the main house seven years later on the double-wide lot.

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Contractor George Hausen agreed to buy the homes, sight unseen, for redevelopment, with no knowledge of the building's history – only the lot space available.

"It's not one house on one legally subdivided lot. It's one house and a studio on two lots that were subdivided years ago," said Wilmette Community Development Director John Adler.

The preservationist community reacted within days last month, when Hausen sought demolition permits. Unlike some developers, Halstead and Adler said Hausen immediately agreed to consider changing his plans when informed of the buildings' history.

Halstead, Adler and DiChiera said discussions are progressing on ways to save the homes.

"In this case, there's a lot of awareness and willingness to do that," Halstead said. "The Van Bergen building could be resold and perhaps the little Wright-Schindler cottage on the adjoining lot could be moved."

Halstead said several people have expressed interest, and Adler said one scenario could allow the cottage to be moved to the rear of the 1318 property, while others could move it elsewhere.

The cottage has undergone substantial modification over its 92 years of existence, but Halstead said the original plans exist and that it could be rehabilitated to its original design.

Halstead said there is evidence that the "temporary residence" was built in 1920, following destruction of a previous home on the property by a tornado. She said the original intent may have been to convert it to a garage once the main house was built, but said it has remained a residence.

A garage, not historic in nature, currently sits at the rear of the 1318 lot.

DiChiera said one person who has contacted her group would like to move the cottage to the western suburbs, another to Michigan and yet another to Wisconsin. She said she is hoping that it will find a new home somewhere in Wilmette, if not at the rear of the 1318 Isabella property.

Adler said the village of Wilmette and Landmarks Illinois both would urge anyone who bought the Van Bergen-designed home from Hausen to seek landmark designation. Two other Wright-designed homes in Wilmette already carry landmark designation, the Baker home, at 507 Lake Av., and the Burleigh/O'Connor home, at 330 Gregory Av.

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