Frank Lloyd Wright's Kankakee House Now Owned by Not-for-Profit Group

By Kevin Litwin on March 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm EST
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Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed two Kankakee homes that were both constructed in 1900 – Hickox House and the B. Harley Bradley House. In 2012, both remain showplaces next door to each other on South Harrison Avenue in the Riverview Historic District.

Hickox House is privately owned and not open to the public, but Bradley House is owned by a not-for-profit group, Wright in Kankakee, and is open for tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The one-hour tour costs $15, and the home can also be rented for weddings, receptions, meetings and conferences of 100 or fewer people.

“It is a large 6,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, four-bathroom, two-story house that gives visitors a lot to see during the one-hour tour,” says Elisabeth Dunbar, Bradley House executive director. “Both Wright houses are on the National Register of Historic Places, but Bradley House has arguably the more interesting history. It has seen its share of tragedy, misuse and intrigue over the years.”

Boarded Up Twice

That intrigue includes original owner Harley Bradley's suicide – although not on the property – and the home's use as a restaurant for 30 years. It was damaged and fell into disarray, foreclosures saw it boarded up twice, and a man who eventually purchased and worked on restoring Bradley House in the mid-1980s was kidnapped from the premises and killed.

“In addition, the carriage house that connects to the home was threatened with demolition in 2001, so former Kankakee County residents Gaines and Sharon Hall bought Bradley House to restore everything,” Dunbar says. “Gaines is an architect who restored the entire house and used Wright's original blueprints from 1900. The Halls completed the renovation with the intent that the house would become a public space, and Wright of Kankakee purchased it in 2010 for that purpose.”

Beauty and Practicality

Dunbar says the house has many interesting Wright touches, including leaded glass windows with tulip patterns.

“The front of the house has distinctive peaks with 12-foot overhanging eaves, which are beautiful as well as practical, because Wright designed them to provide shade in the hot Illinois summers,” she says. “The Bradley is also his first Prairie-style house, meaning that it was built in sync with its natural surroundings.”

Wright began developing his Prairie style in the early 1890s when he was employed with a Chicago-based architectural firm, and chose Kankakee for his first venture in that style.

“He used neutral earth-tone colors and long, horizontal lines that mimic the flat horizon of the Midwest prairie,” Dunbar says.

Tens of Thousands

As the overall economy improves, Dunbar expects the Bradley House to draw tens of thousands of visitors each year.

“Today, the house is a home museum, meeting place, event location, art and education center, and a public place that this community can be proud of and enjoy,” she says. “There is something always occurring here. Check our website at www.wrightinkankakee.org to stay up to date.”

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