B. Harley and Anna M. Hickox Bradley married in 1897. They had relatives in Oak Park, Illinois. As a result, they met a young architect by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright and commissioned his first Prairie Style house. Ruth and I toured it this week with Patti, an enthusiastic volunteer, and judged it 5 Compass.
The house has a very interesting history. The Bradley’s had money problems and moved to Iowa in 1913. Two years later Joseph Dodson, The President of the National Audubon Society, bought it and lived there until 1949. He turned the stable, which is now the Bradley House’s extensive gift shop, into a birdhouse factory. Dodson left the house to his secretary, Lillian “Babe” Nelis. Five years later 2 army cooks, Marvin Hammock and Ray Schimel, bought it and turned it into a restaurant, Yesteryear, that lasted for 30 years. From 1990 until 2005 it was owned by lawyers and an architect who converted it into offices. In 2005 Gaines and Sharon Hall acquired Bradley House with the intent to save and restore it, which they beautifully did. Tours began in 2010.
Today Bradley House in Kankakee’s Riverview Historic District is massively Wrightian and an ideal example of his Prairie Style design with 7 bedrooms, 100 windows, a horizontal appearance, etc. “Like it grew out of the ground” is how Patti accurately described both Wright’s Prairie Style and Bradley House. The stylized red and white tulips in its ornate windows are the only highly decorative features throughout. The individualistic architect didn’t place the oversized oak front door steetside. According to legend he hid it. If you were welcomed here, Wright reasoned, you’d know where the front door was. South of the house is the Kankakee River, which can be seen from several rooms. On its north side is the Warren R. Hickox House that Wright designed for Anna’s brother. It’s still privately owned.
Many alterations and changes have occurred over the years. No original Bradley House furnishings remain. They are found in museums and private collections, and yet its unmistakably Wright with elegant bay windows, library nooks, oak-beamed ceilings, etc. The Hall restoration is impeccable and Ruth was especially thrilled with the exterior plantings. My favorite room was the dining room with built-in buffet, clever lighting, decorative glass panels in the ceiling, etc.
Frank Lloyd Wright resisted changes. He would probably be appalled at what has happened to his first Prairie Style design. But not me. I believe that the over-the-years alterations have made Bradley House better.