Houzz Logo Print

Interesting history of another FLW

4 years ago
last modified: 4 years ago

Interesting article about yet another FLW house near our old house. Take note of the roof repair estimate and real estate taxes near the end of the article. This one will escape the wrecking ball, though. Link to the RE listing and pictures that clearly show needed repairs from water intrusion.

WILMETTE, IL — A landmark home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright has been put on the market by the family of its late third owner, a prolific local architect who lived in the house for nearly 60 years. The historic property was listed for sale Wednesday with an asking price of just under $900,000.

Built in 1909, the Frank J. Baker House at 507 Lake Ave. is the largest Wright-designed home in the village, according to a Wilmette Historic Preservation Commission report. Wright built the home the same year as the Robie House in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, riding on horseback to Wilmette from his studio in Oak Park.

Sitting on a 0.6-acre lot partially obscured by trees from view from the street, the 4,800-square-foot wood and stucco home includes five bedrooms and a private porch. The home's Prairie-style design has a first floor shaped like a cross and an L-shaped second floor. A two-story living room features distinctive vertical windows of leaded glass.

Wright designed an addition in 1922, according to its listing, and a detached garage he designed has room for three cars. The house includes neither a basement nor an attic, and originally, it included a low stucco mall hiding the front door of its two entranceways. Wilmette residents referred to the home as the "Baker Bungalow" when it was first built, according to the commission's report.

Baker died in 1922, according to his granddaughter, who visited the home in 2016 at age 80 with the held of a charity that grants wishes to seniors. In a 1925 directory, the house was listed as vacant. By 1942, the property's second owners, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wilson, were living in the home along with their four children and son-in-law, the preservation commission found. Walter and Betty Sobel, the late third owners of the Baker House, purchased it in 1957.


Walter Sobel, a past president of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was involved in the design of about 250 courthouses and edited two books about courthouse architecture, according to an obituary. He designed numerous commercial and residential structures across the North Shore over his lengthy career. They included renovations for Braeside and Ravinia elementary schools in Highland Park while working for John Van Bergen, Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston and the former Fell Companydepartment store in downtown Winnetka.

Betty Sobel, who died in 1997, was the founder and owner of the Print Mint Galleries in Wilmette and Bridgewater, Vermont, according to an obituary. She was a co-founder and president of the Chicago Community Music Foundation, created to provide opportunities for children in underserved urban area to play musical instruments, and a past president of the Women's Architectural League.

In an interview ahead of his 100th birthday, Mr. Sobel explained how the Lake Avenue home had become a destination for dialogue among architects across the generations.

"It's like this house was made for it. My wife and I were very lucky to find this house. In a way I feel like the house found us, and it has worked so well for us," Sobel told Chicago Architect magazine in 2013. "Wright designed it for Frank Baker, who worked for Commonwealth Edison's Sam Insull and was responsible for electrifying the North Shore.

"Like its original owner, the design is forward-thinking. It's very accessible and well planned for the future, without many steps. Even at my age I can maneuver around this house well and enjoy it all. And it has a lot of natural light from the windows and clerestory," he said. "We're working on ideas for the future of the house, keeping it as a residence and possibly using the living room, which is very special, as a cultural venue or institution of some kind. We love having people here. We've held concerts, all kinds of discussions and parties, and mentoring meetings for young AIA architects."

Only a few Wright-designed interiors like the Baker House's spacious living room still exist, according to the preservation commission report. It includes diamond-patterned windows and a cantilevered roof supported by six windows, with its ceiling shaped like a tent. There are seven-foot high bookcases with continuous windows on the east and west walls, two stories of windows at its north and a large fireplace in Wright's signature style on the south end of the room.

The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a local landmark by the Wilmette Village Board in December 2008. The village's designation means any alternation or demolition of the structure requires the approval of the local Historic Preservation Commission. Unlike in nearby Glencoe, which in May accepted an application to demolish a Frank Lloyd Wright home, all designated local landmarks in Wilmette are protected from demolition without the permission of a village commission. Glencoe has two types of landmark designations and, since 2013, has seen the demolition of three honorary landmarks, with demolition permits pending on three others.

According to the property's application for listing on the national historic registry, an honorary designation, the Baker House's design was originally intended to be used for a commission for a Tennessee man named William Guthrie. When that deal collapsed, Wright took the plans he had already drawn up and offered them to Baker. With its "magnificent" living room, the home represents the "crescendo" of Wright's Oak Park years and is one of the more representative designs of that period, according to the application.

The house needs some work, its listing agents told Crain's Chicago Business, which first reported the listing. Its leaky roof requires an estimated $64,000 to repair, and some floors have suffered water damaged, they said.

According to the Cook County Assessor's office, the home's 2018 estimated market value for taxing purposes was nearly $960,000, and its tax bill this year was about $22,000. It was not clear if the home is eligible for the state's property tax assessment freeze program for rehabilitating historic properties.

Comments (10)