For someone who's an obsessed Frank Lloyd Wright fan, like myself, visiting Oak Park, IL during the annual Wright Plus house walk is a joy. I just returned from the event that's in its 35th year that's run by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. This was my first year at an event that I've always wanted to attend but the timing never quite worked out before. What could be better than spending the day touring several of the master's private houses and public buildings as well as those of his?
Don't get me wrong, this is not a walk in the park for those committed to touring every property. I found that in order to explore all 10 Oak Park buildings you have to postpone lunch as well as bathroom breaks and make your way briskly from one building to the next. After all, the buildings open at 9 am and close at 5 pm. And, though it sounds like plenty of time to view all 10, it's not without a lot of planning.
With some 2,700 tickets sold this year, I found long lines galore, many requiring a 45-minute wait outside -- not a problem this past weekend when the weather was sunny and mild. And it also provides plenty of opportunity to chat with the other visitors who come from all over the world for this event. I spoke with people from France, Belgium, Canada and Italy. And what I found was that declaring my love of FLW was never met with quizzical stares -- as it usually is -- because everyone on the line was also obsessed.
It's easy to get around, with most people walking from property to property. Others take the free shuttle bus. Some ride bicycles while others preferred to sit in bicycle rickshaws.
Here are more tips and insights for making the most of your visit with minimal hassle:
1. Don't get on line with backpacks or tripods or anything bulky. They'll ask you to check these outside the house. If you come to the event with luggage -- I did because I had to leave for the airport afterward -- you can easily check it at the Orientation Center where you pick up your tickets.
2. You are not allowed to take any photos inside because these are private properties. But you can take as many exterior shots as you like.
3. I recommend pre-ordering the box lunch because otherwise you waste a lot of time walking back into town and ordering lunch. My choice was the turkey/cheese sandwich, which came with a broccoli slaw, BBQ chips, chocolate chip cookie and a beverage.
4. Box lunches are not ready until after 10:30 a.m. So it's best to tote along snacks. I didn't stop for lunch until 3 p.m. and wished I brought something with me.
5. If you didn't pack a snack, there are plenty of local children selling homemade cookies (the chocolate chip were quite good) as well as lemonade, sodas, popcorn and various packaged snack items: chips, pretzels, chocolate bars and peanut butter crackers. (These are very inexpensive.)
6. There are different theories as to how to plan your day. Some suggest visiting the non-FLW properties first because the lines will be short. I did the opposite for several reasons: I love his properties the best and wanted to assure I saw them. In addition, these lines were certainly the longest but I'd rather do my waiting in the morning when I was still fresh.
7. If you can't get everything done in one day, the ticket allows you the rest of the year to visit Wright's two Oak Park public buildings (Unity Temple and his Home and Studio) as well as the Robie House in Chicago.
8. Pack an umbrella because the event isn't cancelled if there's rain.
9. If you're truly into history and architecture, you'll love the end of each property tour because there are usually posters showing photos of the original owners, the original exteriors/interiors as well as house plans. And, though you'll find plenty of volunteers leading you through the house and providing background information, there are often an additional volunteer or sometimes an architect or designer on hand to answer more detailed questions at the end of each tour beside these posters.
10. If you can't get enough of FLW, get to the area early (8 a.m.) and stop by the museum shop to peruse the books and other memorabilia. I purchased "A Guide to Oak Park's Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School Historic District." This is a particularly useful book because it lays out each property on maps so you can check these out as you wander through Oak Park for the open house event.
11. I stayed overnight in downtown Chicago and took the Green Line to the end of the line, the Harlem stop. It's a 15-minute brisk walk from the station to the start of the event. When I do this event again, I think I'd prefer to stay in Oak Park at either of these two convenient and comfy accommodations: the Wright Inn or Under the Ginkgo Tree.
12. For next year's event, plan to order tickets by October or November. This year's event was completely sold out.