Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple will get a facelift worth $10 million
A foundation endowed by Chicago printing and radio station magnate Fred Eychaner said Wednesday it will commit $10 million toward restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park.
The money from Alphawood Foundation Chicago is supposed to kick-start a campaign to raise additional money for the work. “There will be a campaign I hope of national and international scope to raise the funds,” said James McDonough, executive director of Alphawood.
“This is one of the most important buildings in the world.”
The national landmark at 875 Lake St. is regarded as setting a standard for 20th-century modernism.
The temple was finished in 1908 and its use of poured concrete was unusual for its time. Wright included stained glass in the roof and other windows above eye level to bathe the interiors with natural light.
But it has suffered water damage over the years, as the innovative design wasn’t always practical. The National Trust for Historic Preservation said in 2009 that the temple “urgently requires a multi-million-dollar rescue effort.”
Its report said, “Since Wright’s experimental concrete design did not call for expansion joints, there is extensive cracking.” The trust also said that instead of gutters, Wright used downspouts hidden within four interior columns.
“The system was undersized and essentially inaccessible, and to this day water continually overflows the drains and permeates the concrete roof slabs,” the trust said.
McDonough said it’s not known how much a complete repair job will cost or how long it will take. One issue to be settled is whether the Unitarian Universalist congregation that uses the temple for worship will temporarily relocate, he said.
The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation is another group that raises funds for the building. Its executive director, Emily Roth, said, “Alphawood’s gift will have an immensely important impact on the future of Unity Temple.”
Photo by Rich Hein