In the summer of 1976 before I left for college, I delivered a 1/4″ scale model of Unity Temple to The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. I had already been on a team my senior year of high school that built a near same model—but I needed to make it better. The Foundation accepted my $200 construction offer and I spent the summer building. I learned a few years ago, the model is not only still in the Temple, but it has a dedicated caretaker.
Over the years I have made it back to Oak Park only a handful of times. Once I visited the Temple late at night in the 1980’s to see if the model was still there. I knocked on the locked doors while snow was falling, and after proving my name and begging to see the model, I was let in. After looking over it for a few minutes, I was allowed in the Temple, where I just sat in wonder. That is a memory I will always cherish.
Every 10 years or so, I take out my set of carefully packaged blueprints of Unity Temple: a second set of the very same blueprints that the model sits on, and the very same set I used to build it. They smell heavy of 1976 and bring me back to the small wood shop where I worked between the architectural and technical drawing classrooms at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Ronald Heiman taught technical drawing and Bryon Urbanick taught architecture—each working very hard to build a strong foundation into a generation of students, including me.
As the years passed, I always wondered if the model was still there, and assumed the day would come when I would learn it was deemed a relic. I had also been curious how the structure, acrylic, paint, wood, glue, and my poor last minute attempt to replicate the columns, had stood the test of time. Did the Strathmore board I used as walkways stay glued to the Plexiglas over the blueprints? Did the blueprints fade? Did the Letraset rub-downs I used above the entrances, in a font I believe is Trajan, peel off after 45 years? Did the Elmer’s glue I used on the entire maple structure hold tight?
By 2017, Robert Trezevant had been taking care of the model for several years. One day he reached out to me via email, and I was astounded by the clarity of the first photograph he sent. Robert assured me it was alive and well, and still serves its original purpose. It was amazing to see a project that looked better than the day I delivered it. That is when I learned that before the model was returned back to Unity Temple after the last restoration, it was temporarily moved for safekeeping to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio—a Holy Grail to this one-time model builder.
Thank you to Robert, the kindness of the UT Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Heidi Ruehle and Unity Temple Restoration Foundation for taking care of this mini Unity Temple. I would understand if another more technically accurate model may be needed as a replacement in the future. Still, I wish I could have solved how to make the columns more accurate—and I definitely would have made the name plate much smaller.