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By: Richard C. Ross

The world is filled with ironies; one of the strangest being a little known fact that I ran across this morning while researching this story: when former Governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions and commuted all death sentences to life terms in January of 2003 for those who had committed heinous crimes, he also commuted the death sentence of Danny Edwards, the man who, not quite twenty-five years ago (September 1987), was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a man who had once baby-sat Ryan's own children.  That man was media heir Stephen Small and had in fact once been Ryan's next-door neighbor.  But I am getting way ahead of myself...

Jump instead to present day, a fairly nice Sunday afternoon and a trip to Kankakee, Illinois to view a Frank Lloyd Wright home -- actually a pair of them -- there.  Who would have thought that such a treasure existed so close by?  Certainly not me.  But after noticing it listed in the Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide, we did a bit of searching.  One of the URLs to show up in a Google search for the "bradley house Kankakee" was a Chicago Tribune piece from March of 2010 stating that the Bradley House was for sale...  After a bit more research and a few emails -- the Bradley home was obviously not for sale -- we headed southeast for a Sunday tour.

Using the Illinois Tollway system, the trip took only about an hour-and-a-half from Batavia (it would take only slightly longer had we taken a more scenic route).  The home itself, not unlike many of Wright's, has a storied -- and sometimes dark and tragic -- history.  In what was likely the first of Wright's Prairie Style designs, the home was originally designed and built for B. Harley Bradley at the turn of the twentieth century (B. Harley was the grandson of David Bradley, who produced farm and garden implements at a manufacturing business he owned in Bradley, Illinois -- just north of Kankakee).  Oddly, the home itself is just a few blocks from the Ryan residence...

The Harleys lived there in Glenlloyd (a name given by Wright) only thirteen years; after the manufacturing business was sold, they moved to Iowa.  Joseph H. Dodson bought the property in 1915 and lived there until 1949, after which  the home was converted by a pair of cooks from the U.S. military to a fine dining restaurant called the Yesteryear (1953 - 1984).  It was after this time that many of the artifacts and original furnishings were "removed"... and many were sold.  (classic cannonball andirons sit -- unused -- in storage in a Texas museum; Barbara Streisand, for example, once paid $176,000 for its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed desk; a pair of leaded-glass windows, removed from the home's dining room sideboard years ago, sold for $15,000 at Christie's art auction house in New York...)

In 1986 a Kankakee businessman -- Stephen Small -- bought the property in order to restore the home which, by now, had begun to fall into disrepair.  His efforts were obviously cut short due to the debacle referenced in the opening paragraph above.

In 2005, Gaines and Sharon Hall acquired the property.  The rest, as it has been said, is history.  The Halls rescued the property from the wrecking ball and, with the help of contractor Tom Knicklebine, have lovingly  -- and beautifully -- restored both the stable and the house to its former glory.  The result is something that should be at the very top of your "must see" list.

There are many more stories and numerous details, but they are best told and described by one of the docents from Wright in Kankakee.  Ours was an incredibly knowledgeable, gracious and smiling Laura, who grew up in the neighborhood and used to play on the property as a child.  It was one of the best tours and guides that I have experienced at any of the Wright properties.

If there were any disappointment involved, it would be due to the fact that the the structure was relatively void of furnishings and artifacts; my hope is that -- especially since the building has only been open for tours for just over a year -- many of those "lost" items will ultimately be recovered as time goes on.  But there is definitely no mistaking the beauty that is Frank Lloyd Wright, obvious in every minute detail he designed into the Bradley house.  The afternoon voyage to Kankakee was well worth the trip.  And while you're there, take a look right next door.  The house Wright designed for the Hickox family (at the same time as the Bradley residence) is still standing and worth a picture (it is still privately owned, so please view it only from the street...).

 

 

 

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