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February 17, 2015

Robie House still standing

On March 18, 1957, a 90 year-old Frank Lloyd Wright returned to the Robie House, along with a host of student and community protestors. The Chicago Theological Seminary had announced a few weeks prior its plans to demolish the building to pave the way for the construction of a new student dormitory.

“There were significant protests from the community and international community as well, architects and writers. A whole slew of people got together to protest against its demolition,” David Bagnall, director of interpretation for collections and sites at the Frank Lloyd Trust, said in an interview with The Maroon.

Fred C. Robie and his wife, Lora Hieronymus, were living at the Windermere Hotel when they decided to commission Frank Lloyd Wright to build them a home in Hyde Park in 1908. Lora had graduated from the University in 1900 and wanted to maintain an active role in the campus community.

“My mother…was still interested in the campus life and the social life of the University and [my] father thought it would be a good idea to have a house within easy access of that atmosphere,” Fred Robie Jr. said, according to the 1984 book Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House by Donald Hoffman.

The Robies, however, had to sell after 14 months due to financial and marital issues. The building changed hands a few times until eventually it was purchased by the Chicago Theological Seminary and used as a dormitory, but with the intent to demolish.

“It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy,” Wright said, according to Hoffman.

However, the Robie House still stands, and the Seminary was not able to go ahead with its construction plans. The newly formed Commission on Chicago Landmarks declared the Robie House to be a Chicago landmark, and two fraternities in the area offered to give up their housing lots to provide alternative construction sites for a new student dormitory.

The Robie House was purchased by an architectural firm, which donated it to the University of Chicago. Since then, the University has utilized the building as the Adlai Stevenson Institute for International Affairs, as well as headquarters for the Alumni Association. As of 1997, use of the building was turned over to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which has since conducted tours and restoration projects.

The Robie House, along with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, has been nominated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, which would make it eligible for certain protections under international law. If the nomination is approved, it will be the first such designation for both Chicago and for work by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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