Yep, that’s our car. You can see it through that iconic stained glass window. So, where are we now? And who is “we”?
I am with my daughter, Talia who lives near Washington D.C. She came to visit us, and I had the bright, Wright idea for her and I to take a little road trip. So, on Saturday, we drove 4 hours and spent the night in a hotel. Sunday morning, we woke up bright and early and eagerly took a private tour of an historic home. Homes like this tell stories. Stories of the times, stories of the people who lived back then, stories of ideas, stories of hopes and dreams and even some stories of heartbreak. My story is I’ve been trying to get inside this place the last two Julys, and I finally made it!
So, here we are, Talia and I, at the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois. This, of course, is a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Our tour guide, Susan, gave Talia and I an outstanding tour of this famous home, which is noted by many as Wright’s first prairie style home. I’m not even going to try to relay all of the interesting stories of the home. My hope is to give you just enough to leave you wanting for more. Like I do.
Here’s some of the things I learned on our tour:
The home has had a number of different homeowners, and that lineage narrates the stories of the times and of its residents. These include: A husband who bought the house without his wife’s consent which resulted in the couple never moving in. One owner was a bird lover, and for awhile, the carriage house served as a factory to make birdhouses. And another: Two men operated the home as the “Yesteryear” restaurant for thirty years. Another story includes a suicide and sadly, another a murder. Yikes!
Some of the stories are mysteries. The home has a large entertaining area. There is a music room which connects to a large “great room” which connects to the dining room. It’s a perfect set up for a night of dinner, music and dancing. However, the younger Mr. Bradley, one of the original owners, had suffered from polio. So considering that, would there have been dancing?
The home was built in 1900. It was wired for electricity which was not at all common back then. So, where did they get it? At the time, there was a nearby electric trolley line. It’s possible, the home hooked into the electric from the trolley line. And it’s a guess if the residents actually paid for the use of the electricity.
Another story describes Frank Lloyd Wright taking an ax to a dining room sideboard and then putting it in the fire when he saw it wasn’t made of quarter-sawn oak as he had specified.
Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright was a character. Did you know he was originally named Frank Lincoln Wright? His father was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln; however, when his parents divorced, Frank took on his mother’s maiden name as his middle name.
Some of the volunteers wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright “signed” the home? The windows include a design where there are two “L”s which face opposite directions – in all the windows – except one. In that window, the letters both face the same way, as in his name, Frank LLoyd Wright. Given his intolerance for mistakes, as noted above, this hardly seems to be an oversight.
Oh, I could go on and on, as Susan gave us a most interesting and thorough tour. I’ll leave the stories at that and move on and add just a few pictures.
Our tour guide, Susan, also spoke highly of Mr. and Mrs. Hall and their role and generosity restoring this architectural treasure. Their generosity impressed me. But I was also impressed with the generosity of many others. With the exception of a part time administrative clerk, the B. Hardly Bradley home is operated by volunteers. Susan, our knowledgeable tour guide, has been giving tours for ten years which is how long the home has been open for public tours. Laura, who operates the gift shop, is also a volunteer and is the home’s historian. There are others, too. I tried to do my part by shopping in the well stocked gift shop; it was the Wright thing to do. Ha ha!
The tour did leave me wanting for more. It happens, the house next door, to the right, was also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Currently, it is the private home of an elderly lady. Perhaps someday, this property could be acquired and added to the site.
There is also a movie entitled, “An American House.” It is currently available on Prime Video, and it is available for purchase at the gift shop at the B. Harley Bradley House. The film tells the connecting story of the home and the town of Kankakee. I hope to watch it soon.
I would also like to read a book our guide, Susan, recommended. “My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright” by John Lloyd Wright. Wright was a colorful character, and I would like to read this book to gain insight into his personality.
Talia and I had a wonderful day touring this home. There was even a miniature display of the home’s main entertaining room. Is this right up my alley, or what?
I hope you enjoyed my post about this fascinating house. Especially since I bought a book in the gift shop entitled, “Wright Sites” – A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places.