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Architectural Gems of Oak Park

Architectural Gems of Oak Park

Although Heritage Tile works with businesses, designers, architects, and homeowners all over the world, our headquarters is proudly situated in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park is often described as a “living museum” because it features the world’s largest concentration of historic buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects hailing from the Prairie School—a late 19th and early 20th century architectural style with Chicago roots. In celebration of Oak Park’s incredible architectural heritage, we’ve rounded up the eight must-visit historic buildings in the village.

historic home Oak Park
Clockwise from left: Ernest Hemingway's birthplace, Pilgrim Congregational Church, Unity Temple, and Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.

Pleasant Home

The jewel in the crown of Oak Park architecture is Pleasant Home. This large Prairie-style mansion was designed by architect George W. Maher in 1897 for investment banker and philanthropist John W. Farson and his wife Maime Ashworth Farson. It is considered the earliest and most distinct example of Prairie School architecture. Contrary to the Queen Anne and colonial revival styles that were popular at the time, Maher’s design boldly broke from the mold. Pleasant Home’s horizontal lines, decorative motifs, art glass windows, custom woodwork and massive fireplace embody the characteristics of an extraordinary Prairie School house. Heritage Tile recently helped to restore Pleasant Home's broad front porch by creating custom tiles to match the originals, which we've detailed in our "Project Spotlight: Pleasant Home Restoration"blog post. Maher designed over 270 projects in his lifetime, but Pleasant Home is his only building open to the public as a museum.

Pleasant Home

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature,” said the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose belief in the idea of “organic architecture” helped pioneer a distinctly American style. Wright moved into this home with his wife Catherine in 1887, and it was completed by 1889. The original design was a modest, three-bedroom Shingle-style home with a conventional gabled facade. Wright lived in the home for twenty years, during which time he fathered six children and continually expanded the home to accommodate his growing family. It was also here that the Prairie-style architect established his own practice after leaving the Chicago firm of Adler & Sullivan in 1893. Considered Wright's first architectural masterpiece, The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio embodies Wright's Shingle style architecture as well as the changes within his philosophy and style that occurred during the twenty years that he lived there.

Unity Temple

“Unity Temple is an entirely new architecture — and is the first expression of it,” said Frank Lloyd Wright. Built between 1905 and 1908, Unity Temple is a Unitarian church and home of the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation. In his unconventional, strikingly modern design, Wright used materials such as poured in-place reinforced concrete (normally reserved for warehouses and factories). He also designed two separate sky-lit spaces—one for worship, Unity Temple, and one for the congregation's social gathering, Unity House. Unity House is the only surviving public building from Wright's Prairie period.

Chicago Temple

Nineteenth Century Club

Designated a “contributing resource with the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District,” this 1928 Oak Park Landmark building was designed by James L. Fyfe. The building is the official home of The Nineteenth Century Club, a women's organization established in 1891. The founders' devotion to education, charitable activity and civic involvement continues today with the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association through benevolence grants, scholarships, and public programming for science and the arts. The building originally featured Oak Park's first swimming pool, and now features The Ballroom, the largest civic meeting place in Oak Park.

Ernest Hemingway's Birth Home

Built in 1890 for Ernest Hemingway's maternal grandparents, this Queen Anne-style Victorian house is where the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author was born and where he spent his first six years. It is the first residence in Oak Park to have electricity, features a wraparound porch and elegant parlor, and is in walking distance of the trails and nature preserves that inspired the author's later work. The home has been restored to look as it did when Ernest lived there.

Oak Park River Forest Museum (Cicero Firehouse)

Built in 1898, Cicero Firehouse No. 2 is the oldest public building in Oak Park. Currently undergoing a $600,000 renovation funded privately by local residents, the old firehouse is the future home of the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society. Layers of false ceilings, drywall and asbestos tiles have been removed to reveal original Georgia-pine ceilings, walls and floors. We're proud to have contributed tile from our Subway Ceramics, Subway Mosaics and Japanese Tile collections to this renovation. The new museum and historical center will serve as a meeting place for the community and will house exhibits, programs and archival documents on two floors.

Oak Park Museum
The Oak Park River Forest Museum
Cicero Firehouse
The same building as Cicero Firehouse, early 1900s.

Cheney Mansion

The Elizabeth F Cheney Mansion was designed in 1913 by Charles E. White, Jr., who worked as an architect in Frank Lloyd Wright's studio for several years. White was strongly influenced by Wright's belief that a structure mirrors its natural environment. White designed the 12,000-square-foot mansion in the style of an English country home for C.E. Sharpe and his family. The mansion features two acres of stunning landscaped grounds and gardens, as well as several reception rooms, six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and separate servants' quarters. The house also features exquisite examples of historic tile, which we've detailed more in our "Tile in the Wild- Cheney Mansion" blog post.

Pilgrim Congregational Church

As the oldest structure continuously used for worship in Oak Park, the building housing the Pilgrim Congregational Churchdates back to 1889. The Hasbrouck-Sprague survey of Oak Park architecture rated the building as an outstanding example of Queen Anne Revival Style. The congregation was founded in 1874, with the first meeting of Ridgeland Congregation Society held in the Ridgeland Avenue Railroad Station of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad. The congregation traces its religious ancestry back to the early Puritan Congregationalists, who came as Pilgrims to the new world.

Being so close to these historic buildings is one of the reasons we are based Oak Park. Their architecture and history inspires our traditional tile collections. We hope you come visit us in Oak Park and enjoy these beautiful buildings while you are here. There's no better place to start your vintage tile journey!