Watch CBS News

Restoration Coming For Glencoe Frank Lloyd Wright House

GLENCOE, Ill. (STMW) -- A Glencoe architect is restoring a run-down, years-vacant Frank Lloyd Wright house to look almost exactly as it did when built in 1915.

But it won't be the same, he says. It'll be better.

The Glencoe house, which wasn't even insulated, will soon be energy-independent, equipped with geothermal and solar power, architect John Eifler said.

Why bother to pack an old Wright-designed relic with the latest green efficiencies?

"These are the kinds of houses that are going to be there for a whole long time, because people appreciate them," Eifler said Monday.

"We're applying practical sustainable design to a house that, theoretically," will survive for generations because of its provenance.

Eifler believes that it should be an example for less antique construction: "Now houses need to transform themselves in order to meet our kind of sustainable living."

Eifler has restored about 15 Wright houses, but the one at 1027 Meadow Road is the first he's bought himself, and, since late February, lived in, moving from downtown Evanston. He and his two sons and life partner Bonnie Phoenix have done a lot of the scraping and painting.

There is a lot of restoration to do. A previous owner-architect added a vestibule, and that had to go. And there was considerable damage due to neglect.

"The boiler shut down during the winter once ... and all the pipes burst," Eifler said. "It was a disaster. Mold everywhere."

Another architect, Glencoe Preservation Commission Chairman Tom Scheckelhoff, was saddened at what happened to one of Glencoe's cluster of five Wright homes, the one originally intended for the architect's attorney.

"The house had been abandoned for 4 or 5 years ... and it had a flooded basement," Scheckelhoff said. "It was a horrible state of affairs.

"But the worst travesty was that (the previous owner) painted the (exterior) trim purple. "Purple just didn't work."

Thursday, the Glencoe Village Board is expected to vote to make the house a local landmark. Scheckelhoff's commission April 5 recommended 4-0 that the vote go through.

The landmark status has already been afforded to two of the five houses of "The Ravine Bluffs" development, which includes Wright's famous Sylvan Road bridge. It will freeze the property taxes on the house for eight years, no matter how much the house appreciates due to improvements.

Those changes include converting the four bedrooms and a sewing room upstairs to three bedrooms and a second bathroom. Though the landmark status requires fealty to original design, only the outside counts, Scheckelhoff said.

The geothermal improvements add a lot of value, even though federal grants cut their out-of-pocket cost by 30 percent, Eifler said.

"Six (geothermal) wells, down to 120 feet, always come back to 55 degrees, extracting heat or cold, depending on the season. Pays for itself in the long run," he added.

He said he plans to use high-efficiency Q-Cells photo-voltaic panels from Germany, and expects that together with the geothermal exchange, he can get the electric meter "running backwards," selling power back to Commonwealth Edison.

The walls have been insulated, and there are now four inches of stiff insulation under the roof, which has been changed from cedar to recycled aluminum.

State historical officials signed off on the hard-to-notice roofing change.

Water drained in sinks is being shunted to toilet tanks for economical flushing, and the sump pump and roof will be diverted to a filtering garden.

"Architects have turned into these 'form givers,'" — only interested in design — Eifler said, when they should be helping clients cope with an energy-poor, pollution-rich future.

"We've kind of lost our role. If we really want to make ourselves credible in the future, we have to be able to do things like this."

--Irv Leavitt / Glencoe News, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.