Among the many reasons to hold out hope that spring will indeed come to Chiberia—aside from being able to feel your toes again—is this: For the first time ever, you’ll be able to tour a part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park home and studio that until now has been off-limits.
On January 3, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust announced that beginning in March, tours at the Oak Park landmark will take visitors to the second-story balcony work space in his studio. That hasn’t been allowed in the forty years since the home went from private ownership to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“It’s been a little like going to one of the great cathedrals of Europe but not being allowed to go up into the campanile,” says Celeste Adams, President and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which restored and manages the conjoined pair of buildings. “The studio balcony is a very striking part of the [studio] building.”
In the balcony, visitors will get a close-up view of the patterned windows, the framework of support chains, and the starburst of beams overhead. But Adams says it’s more than that: “[Up there] you get a new perspective on what it was like to work in Wright’s studio, where people were working on two different levels but were connected” via the central opening between the balcony and the main floor. She points out that people working on that upper level had the privacy they might need to think, but weren’t totally removed from the action below them on the main floor.
The Trust, which in the past has used the balcony as office space, is setting up an exhibit there that will explore the work of Wright’s team members. The crew on some of the pathbreaking designs that came out of Wright’s studio included architects and designers who went on to distinction on their own. Among them were Marion Mahony, the first woman licensed as an architect in Illinois, and her husband-to-be, Walter Burley Griffin; the pair went on to design the capital of Australia, among other things.
“A very interesting group of people worked in the studio,” Adams says. “They had a wide range of talents, and made it a very dynamic and interesting place.” Using the enchanting second-floor workspace as a space to honor their contributions is a way to subtly foreground a group of creative people who often get pushed into the background by Wright’s outsized reputation.
For years, tours at the home and studio have taken visitors through the living space and work space but stopped short of letting people up into the balcony. Part of the problem was slim, low-ceilinged stairs. Adams says that since she took over the reins of the trust in 2010, opening the balcony “was something I very much wanted to do.” This year the Trust is celebrating what it calls the Legacy Year, the 125th anniversary of the home’s completion. (The studio section was added nine years later.) The balcony’s opening and new exhibit is a part of the celebration.
While tours go on year-round, March 21 is the date that the balcony comes onboard. Only the first and last tours of the day will go up to the balcony, Adams explains, because otherwise tour groups on both floors would overlap one another and the experience of the quiet aerie wouldn’t be as rich. The 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. tours including the balcony will be longer than standard tours, and as a result will cost more. The standard tour is free for members and $15 for non-members. Tours with the balcony will be $10 for members and $25 for non-members. Ticket information is here.
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