Service of Leave it Alone, Already II: Why Buy a Landmark if You’re Going to Destroy It?

June 27th, 2019

Categories: Architecture, Historic, Landmark, Preservation

Booth Cottage Photo:

I complained, in the 2016 iteration of this title, about the person who bought a Brooklyn brownstone I once coveted that had all of the original plasterwork that they tore out. “Couldn’t they have bought another house?” I thought after I visited the remodeled, stripped down atrocity on a house tour. That post addressed physical attacks on public buildings—The Waldorf Astoria and Grand Central Terminal.


I had a similar sinking feeling when reading Michael J. Lewis’s article, “Bulldozing a Modernist Landmark” with subhead “The looming demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Booth cottage is the latest example in a long history of our culture’s disregard for its architectural past.” The owner’s complaint about the Glencoe, Ill. property: it’s a small house on a big lot. So pick on another property!

Lewis wrote: “People are usually surprised to learn that America’s historic buildings, no matter how significant, go unprotected unless there is a local preservation ordinance. Even those ordinances are typically toothless, since they can be overruled for reasons of ‘hardship,’ a category so elastic that the inability to maximize the profit potential of your property can count.


“As it happens,” Lewis continued, “there is a preservation ordinance in Glencoe, but the Sherman M. Booth cottage has been given only ‘honorary’ landmark status. That means that demolition can occur, but the town can mandate a 180-day stay of execution. For the moment, the cottage still stands; behind-the-scenes negotiations might save it yet.”

Lewis cited statistics kept by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy which report that only two of Wright’s structures have been demolished with 380 existing, so losing a third may not be the big deal I think it is. Your thoughts? Why are Americans so blasé about their architectural history?


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8 Responses to “Service of Leave it Alone, Already II: Why Buy a Landmark if You’re Going to Destroy It?”

  1. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre wrote on Facebook: Sell the house to someone who would appreciate it.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My thoughts precisely.

    And if the property is too big for the small house consider making it a guest house and buy an adjacent property and tear out that house.

  3. EAM Said:

    EAM wrote on Facebook: Property by FLW in NJ for $1.2 million.

  4. ASK Said:

    I am NOT a fan of FLW…the design of residential interiors leaves much to be desired: rooms are often dark, bedrooms are small, the rooms often too woody…and don’t ask me about closet space and his furniture. That said, I do believe his work deserves preservation for his unique point of view, his strictly American regionalism, and his subsequent influence. The Glencoe buyers should have looked elsewhere. Hope the house is rescued!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For the reasons you note I wouldn’t buy a FLW-designed home. Built-in seating in the living room is so low at Falling Water that it would be a challenge for many to get up should they dare sit to begin with. The son’s bedroom was tucked in a sliver of space and his bed must have been custom-made as it was so skinny. I wondered, when I saw it, what happened when he wanted to turn around?

    That said, I like the lines of Falling Water and of many of the photos I’ve seen of other FLW homes. In his article Michael Lewis mentioned that Frank Lloyd Wright is the only architect many Americans recognize. Like you, I hope that the house is saved.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder how this compares to other homes in the neighborhood, if there is a premium for it and if the buyers must maintain it in a certain way and take care to remodel according to FLW guidelines, abiding by building codes at the same time.

  7. EAM Said:

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    Wright’s best works should be preserved, with much of the same zeal spent on Colonial and other historic buildings. Booth Cottage looks both sturdy as well as a fine example of a certain genre. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the contempt generated towards those contemplating its demolition.

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