Book about Wright's Last Major Chicago Work

Article ID: 9819

Released: 3-Nov-1998 12:00 AM EST

Source Newsroom: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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U of Ideas of General Interest ó November 1998
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Contact: Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor (217) 333-5491; melissa@uiuc.edu

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT Book examines Midway Gardens, architectís last major Chicago work

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ó Like a comet that blazes a trail through the night sky once in a blue moon, Frank Lloyd Wrightís most ambitious and monumental creation ñ Chicagoís Midway Gardens ñ came and went before most observers even knew what had passed before their eyes.

A sophisticated adult playground built on the cityís South Side in 1914 and razed just 15 years later, Midway Gardens represented a carefully arranged marriage of modern architectural design and old-world tradition. A distinctly American translation of the German concert garden, the elaborately decorated brick-and-concrete fantasyland included an indoor restaurant and dance hall; multi-tiered, outdoor summer garden and band shell; tavern; and private club. It was the toast of the town during its first two seasons, according to University of Illinois architectural historian Paul Kruty, who has resurrected the structure in his new book ìFrank Lloyd Wright and Midway Gardensî (U. of I. Press).

Kruty, whose research focuses on Wright and other Prairie School architects, was the principal consultant for the documentary ìWalter Burley Griffin: In His Own Right,î which will be broadcast on PBS stations nationwide in conjunction with the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick series ìFrank Lloyd Wrightî airing Nov. 10-11. The Griffin documentary is a production of WILL-TV, the PBS affiliate of the U. of I.

Although volumes have been written about Wright, Krutyís book is the first devoted solely to the history of Midway Gardens ñ its genesis, its brief heyday and its decline. Kruty also examines three well-circulated theories about what caused the Gardensí premature demise: ìanti-German sentiment and World War I; lack of local support; and the rise of temperance and the Prohibition amendment.î

ìFor every reason that can be proposed, it can be demonstrated that that reason alone did not bring about the Gardensí fall,î Kruty wrote. If any one thing caused the enterprise to fail, he said, it would probably be the initial underfunding of the project. Still, he said, ìThe fact remains that at any point in its history, a civic-minded, or culturally oriented, or eccentric-enough individual, with sufficient capital and a clever imagination, could have saved Midway Gardens. Blaming the Germans, Chicagoans, Prohibition, Mrs. [Potter] Palmer, or even Mr. Wright just will not do. Midway Gardens simply disappeared by default.î

In his book, Kruty also accesses the value and importance of Midway Gardens in the context of Wrightís entire body of work. The Gardens, he noted, represented not only Wrightís last major work in Chicago, but his last major Prairie-style building as well. At the same time, he said, Midway Gardens was a launching pad for a whole new Wrightian design style.

ìIn this richly textured and layered work, Wright summarized the accomplishments of his first mature period, while presenting a more expansive, expressive conception that would dominate his designs until the end of the 1920s, and leave a legacy far beyond that.î

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