It is well known that Frank Lloyd Wright came from a family of Unitarians and that he designed Unity Temple while he was living in Oak Park in the home he designed located on Forest Avenue. How Wright ended up living in Oak Park may not be as well known.
The Unitarian congregation in Oak Park had been in existence since 1871, long before Unity Temple was built. The congregation’s original high steepled, wooden church burned down in 1905. Augusta Chapin was the minister from 1886 to 1892. For much of Chapin’s ministerial career she was an itinerant preacher at various locations throughout the Midwest. She started new congregations in Iowa and helped reverse downward trends in membership at a number of existing churches.
According to Plagued by Fire author Paul Hendrickson, when Wright first came to Chicago from Wisconsin in 1887, he boarded for a time with a parish family of All Souls Church on the south side of Chicago where his Uncle Jenkin Lloyd Jones was the minister. He later boarded with his friend and fellow architect Cecil Corwin and then in a rooming house. Wright’s devoted mother, Anna Lloyd-Jones Wright, wanted to be closer to her son and followed him from Wisconsin to Chicago with her daughters, Jane and Maginel.
In Maginel’s memoir, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses, she describes how they came to live in Oak Park; “We took a while to settle – at least Mother did. She found after looking it over, that she disliked the North Shore by the lake because the wind was cruel there; and the South Side, adjacent to her powerful brother (Jenkin), didn’t please her either. At last she decided on Oak Park, a village suburb half an hour by train from Chicago. Its pleasant homes were buried in shrubs and surrounded by oak trees, and the schools were good, and it was time I went to school. Our first home was a big, ugly, red brick home on Forest Avenue, where we took up residence with the Reverend Augusta Chapin, a Universalist minister.” According to an 1890 social register, Augusta Chapin lived at 214 Forest, which would have been the first house on Forest north of Lake Street. (Oak Park street addresses were renumbered in 1915 and 214 Forest would become 114.)
Frank Lloyd Wright came to Oak Park and lived with his mother and sisters at Augusta Chapin’s house until he and his mother purchased the house and property at Chicago and Forest Avenues from landscape designer John Blair in 1889. Anna, Jane, Maginel, Frank and his new wife, Catherine Tobin, all moved into the Blair house until the new house designed by Wright was completed on the west half of the property. Unfortunately, the house where the Wrights lived with Augusta Chapin no longer exists. A new high-rise building on the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue sits on the site.
Contributed by Ken Simpson.