The buyers of the red brick house at 25 East Cedar Street where Frank Lloyd Wright lived during one of the most tumultuous chapters of his life will tear it down and build a new residence on the site, according to the real-estate agent for the home’s sellers. The sale closed on Tuesday, and the buyers, not yet identified in public records, paid $1.5 million for the property; the sellers, Gordy and Clari Siegel, had been asking $1.7 million. A Chicago Tribute sign in front of the house notes that Wright once lived in the home, but the place does not have landmark status.
The Siegels’ agent, Kimberly Gleeson of Koenig & Strey, confirmed that the buyers bought the property only for the land. “It’s a nice-sized lot [30 feet by 72 feet] with alley access,” she said. (The norm for a city lot is 25 feet by 125 feet, but most of the lots on Cedar are shallower because of the alley.) Although Gleeson’s listing had encouraged buyers to “own and rehab the historic former studio of architect Frank Lloyd Wright,” Gleeson said that the house needed major work inside. “It was too much of a project for most people,” she said. “I would forewarn them, and they would say, ‘Yeah, we’re up to the task’ and come in—and then go running out like, ‘OK, I’m up for some work, but not that much.’”
Built in 1887, possibly as a coach house for another home, the brick Georgian is nestled between a tall mid-20th-century apartment building and a three-story mansion built in 2007 by George Giannoulias. He is the brother of Demetris Giannoulias, who was the president and CEO of Broadway Bank until it was shut down by regulators last April. (Though George has been widely reported as the owner of the new house next door to the Wright house, documents at the Cook County Treasurer list Demetris as the taxpayer on that house; Demetris owned the lot from 1996 to 2008, when he transferred the deed to a limited liability company.) George Giannoulias’s other brother, Alexi, is the former Illinois state treasurer and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
Although not yet divorced from his first wife, Catherine (known as Kitty), Wright lived in the Cedar Street house for some part of the years 1914 and 1915; his companion for some of that time was Maude Miriam Noel, the woman who, in 1923, would become his second wife. (In August 1914, a disgruntled servant had set fire to Taliesin, Wright’s Wisconsin compound, and axed to death Wright’s then-mistress, Mamah Cheney, and six others.)
Last summer, the Chicago Reader’s Deanna Isaacs and the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin reported that preservationists had protested the house’s possible demolition and alleged that the construction of George Giannoulias’s house had caused irreparable damage to 25 East Cedar. Isaacs reported that the Siegels had discovered sloping floors and visible cracks that coincided with construction. Giannoulias responded that his construction team had taken every step required of them by the city to guard against damage to the neighboring structure.
Gleeson, the Siegels’ agent, would not comment on the particulars of the home’s condition, but she explained that a buyer “would have to redo a lot of the façade and the whole foundation. You would basically keep the façade and rebuild everything else. It would probably cost a lot more money to keep the existing structure [than to tear it down and build new].” Large fissures are visible in the brick of the western portion of the building (as shown in the photo, above). No photos of the interior were offered with the listing, and I have not been inside.
The Siegels had owned the house since the mid-1980s; Cook County records do not clearly show what they paid for it. They moved out in June 2009, according to Isaacs’s article, and put the house on the market in August 2010. I was not able to reach them or George Giannoulias for comment, and the buyers’ agent, Mary Southwick, did not respond to a request for comment.