Frank Lloyd Wright's ramshackle bungalow saved from destruction

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The Independent US

Developers do it all the time. They buy properties but decide that the plot is more important to them than the undistinguished home that sits on it. So, before you can say double your money, they tear the existing building down to make way for a new one; or, very often, two or three or more new ones.

Developers do it all the time. They buy properties but decide that the plot is more important to them than the undistinguished home that sits on it. So, before you can say double your money, they tear the existing building down to make way for a new one; or, very often, two or three or more new ones.

This was the scenario at 2255 Edgebrooke Drive, in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Illinois, when Danic Custom Homes came along and took possession a little while ago. The house was a tumbledown bungalow with little obvious value and the owner, Donald Duncan, had died last year. The company prepared to bring in the wrecking ball and throw up three brand new custom-made homes in its place.

But somebody at Danic, noticed something that any casual passer-by might not. The 47-year-old pre-fabricated home, on an attractive two-acre lot with wide lawns and mature trees, had a rather special pedigree. It had been built by arguably the most famous architect ever produced by America: Frank Lloyd Wright. They wondered, fortunately, about the possibility of preserving it.

And so began a headlong rush to save the building from obliteration that culminated last week with a 540-mile journey for the building by road from Edgebrook Drive to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where it will be reassembled and, hopefully, reopened in its original state as a local tourist attraction.

Overseeing the project has been the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving the works of Wright. Danic donated the bungalow to the group on condition they take it away. They, in turn, found a high-school music teacher from Johnstown, who agreed to take the house under his wing.

For the teacher, Tim Baacke, it is no small project. In undertaking to save the building, he promised to pay for it to be disassembled and taken by lorry to Pennsylvania. That has already given him a bill of $100,000 (£55,800). He expects that it will take him at least three times that amount to put it back together and make it presentable for visitors. Some of the costs, he hoped, will be defrayed by corporate sponsors.

Ron Scherubel, the executive director of the conservancy, based in Chicago, said: "We're pretty pleased with the preservation. There hasn't been a Wright building torn down for over 30 years.

"It would've been hard to say, 'Well, now there is one'. The last work by the architect to be reduced to dust was an apartment block in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 1970s."

The bungalow is especially significant as one of a few examples remaining of a series of pre-fabricated buildings that Wright designed with the hope they could provide housing for the masses. The pieces of the homes were cut in Madison, Wisconsin, and then taken by lorry to sites around the country. Thus, as a crane and a crew of carpenters arrived at the Lisle site last week, the house was about to leave its lot in just the same way as it arrived nearly five decades ago: by lorry.

It took four days to pull it apart. Crews first removed the low-slung roof and cut up the walls in eight-foot sections, and carefully packed the doors and windows. Some generic elements were thrown away, like the exterior wall shingles and the carpets. But anything that was specific to Wright, including the Philippine mahogany panelling, the window sills, the fireplace and the angel-cut breeze-blocks from the foundations, were tagged and packed for the journey to Pennsylvania.

Mr Baacke, who has also taken possession of some of Mr Duncan's original furniture, said that the nature of the house, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, made the adventure possible. "It is a project that can be done only because of the style of Wright's design to begin with," he said. "It really lent itself well to be moved."

Now that it has arrived in Pennsylvania, the house will be in better company than it was in Lisle, a rather drab suburb of single-storey structures. Within 50 miles of its new location are some of Wright's most visited houses, including Kentuck Knob and, most notably, Fallingwater, his signature home that is fancifully split into several horizontal levels overhanging a waterfall.

Although Mr Wright, who died in 1959, is well known as the inspiration of several important public buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, residential designs were his greatest passion.

He was best known for conceiving homes that blended with the natural elements, usually with different horizontal planes opening on to the outside.

The job of reassembling the Duncan house has been given to Doug Thierry, a local carpenter who has worked with Mr Baacke renovating several other historical properties. "It's an honour; it's a real good honour," Mr Thierry said. "There are people who would die to do something like this. It's unique."

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