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100th Anniversary For Wright-Designed Homes In Milwaukee Highlights Need For Restoration

Preservationists Are Optimistic Wright's Name Recognition Will Be Enough To Raise Restoration Funds


In 1916, Frank Lloyd Wright designed six homes in a Milwaukee neighborhood meant to house working families. It was Wright’s belief that families should have access to beautiful, but affordable homes.

Now, 100 years later, preservation groups are marking the centennial anniversary of the homes’ construction and calling attention to the fact that some of the homes are in need of repair.

The houses, all on the same block of Burnham Street in Milwaukee, is the biggest grouping of the internationally known architect’s series of designs called American System-Built Homes. Volunteer curator Mike Lilek said the houses, some as small as 800 square feet, were Wright’s earliest offering to the masses.

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“By the time he designed the houses on Burnham Street, he had constructed 135 buildings or homes for clients who had deep pockets – could afford just about anything,” Lilek said. “The houses on Burnham are really his broad gesture to a wide audience.”

“It’s to all of us, the rest of the population. He really believed our lives would be enhanced, our lives would be enriched, if we could live in a home designed by an architect, he wanted to be that architect,” Lilek continued.

Lilek said three of the houses from 1916 have been completely or partly restored. Preservationists have bought two of the others, but Lilek said the homes are at some risk until there’s money for restoration. The bill could top $1 million.

Nikolas Vakalis, of the International Institute for Restoration and Preservation Studies, consulted on one of the earlier restorations. He said the project had challenges like trying to go back to the house’s original outside stucco.

“We had removed the stucco that had been put in in the 1930s in order to find the original one,” Vakalis said. “But the original one anyway had to be removed because it contained asbestos.”

Vakalis also said many layers and colors of paint inside the home had to be taken off.

Vakalis supports efforts to raise the money to restore the other homes on Burnham Street. He said there’s a simple selling point: “Just three words: Frank, Lloyd, Wright. Is it enough?”