The house on 42 North Central was Anne Teague’s dream home. Her husband, Hurley, purchased it for her. Little did they know that it had any historical significance.
“I wasn’t too much concerned about whether it was historical or what kind of story it was. This is my dream house from a child,” said Teague, who grew up in Atlanta and worked as a child care provider for white families. She admired their large stately homes and dreamed of having her own one day.
“It was just in me that I was going to have a big home,” Teague recalled.
The house at 42 North Central fit the bill. The Teague’s family was expanding from three to eight once the couple took in several nieces and nephews after their parents died. Their three-bedroom cottage on Gladys was too small. So in 1969, they unknowingly purchased a home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Known as the J.J. Walser House, it embodies Wright’s trademark Prairie-style design, with large overhanging eaves, low horizontal lines and an open interior. The house was designated a Chicago historical landmark in 1984. Two weeks ago, it was named among nine endangered Chicago-area properties on the annual watch list of Landmarks Illinois.
But the home’s historical significance is secondary to the life the 89-year-old Teague built there with her family. For her, the home is where family shared Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and even celebrated her sister’s 35th wedding anniversary.
“It’s just been a family home,” Teague said.
Built in 1903, the home has seen better days. The wood and cement baseboards running along the house are crumbling. The cream-colored stucco facade is streaked with cracks. The black exterior wood trim framing the large picture windows need repainting. The house has suffered water damage even though sections of the roof have been redone. A blue tarp covers a second floor window that has caused much of the interior water damage. To keep thieves out, a metal gate bolts the front door shut and has not been used in years.
Two other Wright homes are on the watch list of Landmarks Illinois, a statewide preservation advocacy group: the Williams F. Ross House (1915) in Glencoe, and the William J. Vanderkloot Bungalow (1915) in Lake Buff.
Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for the group, said the agency received several calls concerning the condition of Teague’s home. The watch list designation, she explained, is not to cast the owner “in a bad light,” but to address maintenance issues before they become too costly to repair down the line.
“The house is protected through its landmark designation, but year by year you can continually see the deteriorating problems that the home has,” DiChiera said.
Her agency submitted a letter to Teague informing of the home’s status and offered its assistance. DiChiera noted there are some available tax credits to rehab the home, but so much money must be spent to qualify. She is hopeful, however, that the designation would generate enough interest, as well as in-kind donations such as building supplies or free man-hours to help maintain the house.
“We certainly don’t want to infringe on the privacy of the owner, but it is a pretty noteworthy landmark house,” DiChiera said.
John Thorpe, with the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, agreed. The conservancy is a national group that seeks to preserve Wright-designed homes across the country. He noted Wright’s work is uniquely American, whether it’s a fancy house like Hyde Park’s Robie House or the Walser Home in Austin. Teague’s home, though, has a cross-shaped plan, which was a standard for Wright’s Prairie design. The house original finishes are still in place, including the stucco exterior.
“Every building Wright did made a contribution to his work and there are lessons to be learned from each of those, including the Walser House,” Thorpe said, noting that Wright constructed 400 homes, 30 of which were demolished more than a generation ago.
Preserving the Walser House
Teague, who is on a fixed-income, knows the house needs repairing, but she said it was in bad shape when they purchased it 40 years ago. The previous owners removed all of the art glass windows and light fixtures, as well as some of the original furniture Wright designed for the house. Teague’s husband, who died in 1997, was a general contractor and fixed up the house as best he could. He put up wood paneling and painted the black woodwork a brown color to break up the home’s monotony. Teague recalled the interior was painted black and white, which resembled “a haunted house.”
“We brought the house back to life,” she said. “All the work that you see here is the work that my husband did in the house.”
Teague, though, questioned the growing concern over her home when people, “are not going to help do anything to repair it.”
Teague’s granddaughter, Charisse Grossley, 43, of Forest Park, views the watch list status with a grain of salt.
“It is hurtful to see the house get to this point where it is on the watch list,” she said. “But hopefully … (people) would see the need for a historical landmark in this area and resources would open up for restoration.”
Grossley added that her grandparents sought assistance from their alderman, the city and their congressman, but help has come in piecemeal efforts. Two years ago, Eyes on Austin, a local community group, partnered with ComEd to weatherize the home, but, the home needs much more, said Jean Jackson, Eyes on Austin’s founder and executive director.
Windows and doors, for instance, were needed, added Jackson, who, out of desperation, applied to the TV show “Extreme Makeover” for assistance. When told the home was on Landmarks Illinois’ watch list, Jackson was not surprised because “the house needs a lot of work,” she said.
Grossley said her grandparents worked hard and got their home regardless of its historical significance. But she added that if a home is designated a landmark more assistance and resources should be available to help the homeowner.
“Even though they didn’t know it was a historical landmark, it is still their home,” she insisted. “It is part of what I consider their legacy. It is not just Wright’s.”