Glencoe Wright monuments in need of repairs
Cosmetic repairs are no longer enough for one of three landmark Frank Lloyd Wright entrance monuments, at the corner oif Sylvan Road and Franklin Drive. | Irv Leavitt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 14, 2012 9:14AM
GLENCOE — Tucked into a quiet but historic neighborhood in east Glencoe is a landmark Frank Lloyd Wright entrance monument that is visibly falling apart.
It’ll be fixed, village officials promise, but they don’t promise when.
“It looks like hell,” Glencoe architect John Eifler said. “It’s embarrassing.”
On or about July 20, shortly after a violent rainstorm, a big chunk fell off the 205 Franklin Drive monument marking an entrance to the Ravine Bluffs subdivision, home to seven Wright homes. The 1915 sculpture, which previously looked something like a giant, recumbent candy apple on a stick, now appears to have a big irregular chunk bitten from the apple part.
Eifler, who has restored about 15 Wright homes, moved from Evanston to Glencoe early last year to restore and live in one of the Wright houses in Ravine Bluffs. He noticed that the subdivision’s three similar entrance markers were all deteriorating.
All three — the other two are at the west end of Sylvan Road and the corner of Franklin Drive and Meadow Road — are official Glencoe landmarks.
Eifler knew the village had been nursing the sculptures for decades, but he felt that they needed to be restored completely to stave off big problems — especially the one at 205 Franklin, at the corner of Sylvan, he said.
So last year, he asked an expert to prepare a bid to fix them. Restoration by Marion, Inc., of Chicago, came up with a $15,350 cost per sculpture, and Eifler relayed the report to village officials in November.
At Village Hall, the answer was that it was too late to include it in the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year, which began in March, 2012, and no schedule promises beyond that, either.
A repair was also not considered for staff discretionary funds, which can go up to $20,000.
“Frankly, the world won’t come to an end if it doesn’t get fixed,” Village President Scott Feldman said last week. “If it were a huge pothole in the middle of the road, that would get fixed.”
Feldman lives close by, and is disturbed by the busted ball of the monument, he said.
“I drive by it every morning and it’s very annoying, because I know I have some responsibility for getting it fixed,” he said.
But that does not mean he’s in a big hurry.
“I would hope it would get done in the next construction season next summer, but we don’t have it in the budget yet, and we don’t have the funds committed,” said Feldman, who added that he didn’t know about Eifler’s request last fall.
Village Manager Paul Harlow has now ordered a second restoration bid, and an attempt to get money from grants or donations. Nathan Parch, the village’s community development analyst, has fired off a request to Landmarks Illinois for $15,000 for emergency intervention funding to get the worst monument restored.
There’s been interest among architects who want to drum up donations to get the ball rolling, but no money has materialized so far. As for residents’ interest in the monuments, “a lot of people in Glencoe don’t even realize they exist,” Parch said.
“I’ve been baby-sitting these things for about 20 years,” said John Houde, Glencoe deputy public works director, who has ordered cosmetic repairs to keep the monuments presentable and intact. He said that deterioration of the ball segments is inevitable because Wright failed to design drains to let water out of the hollow tops, used as planters.
Even if he had, it probably would have done little good. The drains Wright included for the lower planters in the rectangular, horizontal portions of the monuments were so narrow that they all clogged up decades ago, Houde said.
Another engineering problem is the “cold joint” of the upper and lower portions of the ball, Houde noted. Such joints, made by joining two already-hardened pieces of concrete, don’t perform well over long periods of time.
In fact, he said, a 1930s picture of the 205 Franklin Drive monument shows cracks had already formed around the joint.
Eifler said he worries that the 205 Franklin monument will get worse with the weather. Houde says he doubts that.
The damage means the ball is “exposed to drying out, so it will not retain the moisture in the fall and spring,” Houde said. “So there’s not a lot of freeze-thaw cycle with the weather.”
He said he confirmed that theory with a second restoration expert, now preparing a bid.
“John has taken it upon himself to take care of these all these years,” Harlow said. “They are part of the village’s responsibility, and we take it seriously. They are unique to this community, and we will find a way to get them repaired reasonably soon.”
The village Historic Preservation Commission recently began discussing whether to recommend the entire Ravine Bluffs subdivision be the first in town to receive landmark designation.
Harlow said that the village takes pride in such significant public architectural elements as the monuments, and gave as an example the same neighborhood’s Sylvan Road Bridge, also designed by Wright, and also a highly-styled victim of questionable engineering. It was restored in 1985, 15 years before Harlow became village manager.
The village put together grants, donations and public funding to get that much more expensive job done — after the bridge had been closed to traffic for seven years.
Glencoe, a non-home-rule community that can’t raise taxes at will, can be very tight with a buck.
“Glencoe’s a small community and we’re much more careful about our dollars,” Feldman said. “Nobody says, ‘Don’t fix it,’ but if we overpaid, they’d be upset.
“If there were less snow-plowing in the winter, or we had to go out and not do something else, people would not be so quick to fix it.”
Eifler said that Houde has done a great job keeping the monuments intact over the years, and he has nothing bad to say about the village.
He added, however, that if Glencoe quickly makes a strong commitment to the future of the monuments, which all have visible cracks on various surfaces, donations might come more easily.
In contrast, Feldman said last week that if he made a commitment to get the job done quickly, grants and donations would likely be discouraged.
“If they let this sit there for an entire winter, I’ll just have to go out and get a blue tarp and preserve what we can,” Eifler said.