Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robert G. Emmond house is a fine example of Wright’s earliest works. The home was built in 1892 while he was still working for the Adler and Sullivan architecture firm. Wright was 25 years old at the time. Wright’s employment contract with Adler and Sullivan forbid him from working on independent projects. Even so, Wright took on freelance side projects. As a result, the Emmond home and several others quickly earned the distinction of being “bootleg” homes.
There are two other homes in Oak Park, Illinois that share a similar floor plan and design with the Emmond house. The Thomas H. Gale house and the Robert P. Parker house, both built in 1892, have a striking resemblance.
From the exterior, all three homes are based on the popular Queen Anne style from the Victorian era. This can be seen in the peaked front facing gable, the octagonal tower, and the overhanging eaves.
Precursor to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style
The house has several elements that would become hallmarks of Wright’s future prairie school of architecture. For example, the predominate picture rail installed in the reception, library, and dining rooms on the ground floor hints to his future extensive use of oak trim that would become a calling card for his later homes.
The front and side porches of the home reveal Wright’s use of a water table. The water table was a visual element that Wright used to connect his buildings solidly to the ground. A second function of the water table was to elevate the ground floor several feet to allow for additional privacy. The raised ground floor allows occupants of the home to look out over the surrounding grounds without providing street level pedestrians a direct view into the interior rooms of the home.
The Emmond house also includes expansive leaded windows in the turrets that foreshadow the future use of stained glass light screens. Wright created unique stained glass designs that created privacy while allowing homeowners to view the outside world. In the early windows in this home, the center of each window is a large unobstructed piece of glass. The central portal is surrounded by a diamond pattern that can also be found in the windows of Wright’s early 1889 Oak Park home and studio.
Who Was Robert G. Emmond
Robert G. Emmond was thought to have met Wright when Wright first moved to Chicago. Emmond was a Scotsman born in Melrose, Scotland in 1850. He moved to La Grange and worked in Chicago in the wool industry. Mr. Emmond involved himself in the local community. He was the first village forester and served on the Lyons Township High School Board from 1900 to 1909, serving as its president in 1905.
Mr. Emmond had one daughter, Margaret. His wife died shortly after Margaret was born and Mr. Emmond raised his daughter with the help of his sister.
Upon Mr. Emmond’s death the home was passed to Margaret and her husband, Mr. K. Thompson. The house was then passed on to one additional generation to Mrs. Margaret Thompson’s son Emmond K. Thompson. Ultimately the house remained in the same family from 1892 until 1994.
Architectural Changes & Modifications and Historical Notes
The home was originally built without a side porch. It is believed that the porch was added shortly after construction in the 1890’s.
The porch, as well as the entire ground floor, were clad with brick in a project that was undertaken in the mid 1930’s to modernize the home. In the 1950’s a half bath was added to the ground floor where a back staircase was located.
In 1967 a plan to raze two city blocks of homes to make room for an additional elementary school put the future of both the Emmond house as well as the Peter Goan house at risk of being lost to history. The efforts of a local citizens group resulted in the plan being scrapped and many additional historically significant Victorian era homes being saved.
In the early 2000s the home was largely restored to its 1892 design. The brick exterior was removed, the enclosed porch was reopened, and the home was reconfigured to its original single bathroom layout. In addition, a paint analysis was done to allow for the original interior as well as exterior colors to be fully restored.
Several leaded glass windows were also restored during the project. Most notably, one of the large windows in the front turret was recreated using reclaimed glass from the Orman Hotel in Florida, which was built in the late 1890’s.
As a result of the extensive and meticulous restoration, the home was awarded the Frank Lloyd Wright Spirit award in 2007.
Frank Lloyd Wright Visits the Emmond House
On March 25th 1983, the La Grange Historical Society recorded an interview with Margaret Thompson. Margaret shared stories of Frank Lloyd Wright´s regular visits to the Emmond house with his daughter Catherine for dinner parties. Catherine Wright, born in 1894, would have been one year older than Margaret Thompson.
Margaret also recalled stories of Mr. Wright being involved in the design of the neighboring Orrin S. Goan house at 121 8th Avenue. While the final home is not attributed to Wright, it has been documented that Mr. Wright was involved in the early design of the home. It was said that Mr. Wright’s unwillingness to adapt his designs to the homeowners wishes resulted in him leaving the project before its completion. The home was completed by architect John Tilton. The home that stands today has striking similarities to both the George Blossom house, as well as the William Herman Winslow house.