Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wilbert R. Hasbrouck - A Tribute

Wilbert Hasbrouck at Glessner House, 1970s

On February 10, 2018, Chicago preservation architect Wilbert R. Hasbrouck passed away at the age of 86.  Considered one of the “founding fathers” of the preservation movement in Chicago, his projects included some of the most recognizable buildings in Chicago and the Midwest including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and William Le Baron Jenney’s Manhattan Building.  As co-editor and co-publisher of the Prairie School Review with his wife Marilyn, and as author of the monumental volume The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern, his scholarship helped generations of architects and preservationists to understand and interpret the buildings he fought so hard to save.  In this article, we will look at his significant work in preserving Glessner House and the surrounding Prairie Avenue neighborhood.

Hasbrouck’s involvement with Glessner House began in November 1963, at a time when he was serving as chairman of the preservation committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  He learned that the current owner of the house, the Lithographic Technical Foundation, planned to move to Pittsburgh and put the house up for sale.  A meeting was arranged between Foundation executives and Hasbrouck, along with Joseph Benson (secretary of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks), and Marian Despres, wife of Alderman Leon Despres. 

Soon after the meeting, Hasbrouck prepared a report which he submitted to the AIA, stating in part, “Regardless of what final use is made of this building, I feel the AIA must take a major advisory role in its disposition.  The Glessner House is too important a structure to go the way of the Garrick.”  The reference was to Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater, which had been razed in early 1961.  Hasbrouck was among a small group of preservationists, including Richard Nickel, John Vinci, Ben Weese, Tom Stauffer and Alderman Leon Despres, who had fought unsuccessfully to save what was considered one of Sullivan’s masterpieces. 

Hasbrouck and others continued to monitor the Glessner House, and when it was put up for sale in early 1965, he was quick to voice his concern over its future.  The first article about the fate of the house appeared in the Chicago Tribune on January 31, 1965.  In the article, ominously titled “Old Show Place on Prairie Avenue Haunted By Shaky Future; Now For Sale,” Hasbrouck was quoted as saying the house was “a choice piece of property” and must be adaptively reused and preserved. 

Over the next several months, Hasbrouck, and several others, worked hard to find a way to save the house and build a financially sustainable plan for its preservation.  On April 16, 1966, Hasbrouck was among 20 individuals who organized the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation with the specific goal of purchasing and maintaining Glessner House.  In December 1966, the Foundation purchased the house for $35,000 and its future was secured.  That same month, Hasbrouck was appointed president of the board, serving for four years.

In those first few years, he helped to bring additional support to the house through his connections in the architectural community, participated in planning and executing exhibitions, and overall raising the profile of the house.  In 1971, he was one of several architects selected to provide training to the first class of docents, and he continued to do so for several years.

With Glessner House secure, the Foundation turned its attention to the surrounding community and the small number of historic houses still standing on Prairie Avenue.  Concern for the neighboring houses was heightened when the company that owned three of the structures (the Kimball, Colman, and Keith houses) put them up for sale.  Although there had been some discussion with the City of Chicago regarding the creation of an historic district, nothing had been formalized, so the buildings were still vulnerable.  

Marilyn Hasbrouck in front of the Prairie Avenue Bookshop

Hasbrouck and his wife went so far as to purchase the Keith house at 1900 S. Prairie Ave. to ensure its protection until the district could be officially designated.  Having started their publication, Prairie School Review, a decade earlier, they moved its operation into the house, and Marilyn opened her Prairie Avenue Bookshop, which went on to become a leading architectural bookstore in the United States.  The Hasbroucks sold the building in 1978, once its landmark designation was assured, and the Bookshop relocated downtown.


Two views of the kitchen prior to restoration 

As a preservation architect, Hasbrouck was also involved in the first major interior restoration project at Glessner House.  In 1974, he received the contract to undertake the restoration of the kitchen wing, including the main kitchen, butler’s pantry, dry pantry, cold closet, and servants’ dining hall.  Extensive research was undertaken to determine the features that had been lost, and a detailed plan was drafted for its full restoration.  

Restored kitchen

The restored spaces gave visitors an accurate glimpse into the servants’ portion of the house during the Glessner occupancy.  Shortly after, additional documentation, including original building specifications, were obtained, verifying that the project was accurate down to the smallest detail.


 Removal of cupola, November 1977

In 1975, Hasbrouck received another commission that would have a profound effect on the surrounding historic district.  His firm was hired to move the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest surviving structure, from its location at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue, back into the neighborhood in which it had been constructed in 1836.  The project was complex – moving a 120-ton structure nearly 3-1/2 miles, and most significantly, over the Green Line elevated tracks at 44th Street.  

Clarke House in transit at Michigan Avenue and 25th Street,
December 18, 1977

The house was successfully moved in December 1977 and following extensive restoration, opened as a house museum in 1982.

On April 16, 2016, Glessner House celebrated its 50th anniversary with a 1960s-themed celebration entitled Peace, Love, and Presentation.  The highlight of the evening was to honor five of the surviving individuals who had labored long and hard to save the house – Wilbert Hasbrouck, Ben Weese, Dirk Lohan, Wayne Benjamin, and Paul Lurie.  Each was presented with a framed certificate that included a picture of the house as it appeared in 1966, and a modern photo, showing the dramatic change from a soot-covered threatened building to a Chicago treasure, beautifully restored and accessible to visitors from around the world.  

Wilbert and Marilyn Hasbrouck with their sons John and Charlie,
at Peace, Love and Preservation, April 16, 2016

It was a fitting way to thank Wilbert Hasbrouck and the others for the profound impact they had on Glessner House and the preservation movement in Chicago.

Glessner House is very pleased to announce the creation of the Wilbert R. Hasbrouck Historic Preservation Lecture Series to both honor his years of dedicated service to the organization, and to continue to educate future audiences about the importance and impact of historic preservation on our communities.  The series will consist of an annual lecture presented by an expert in the field who will speak on some aspect of preservation – past, present, or future.  

John Vinci: Life and Landmarks
Text by Robert Sharoff, photography by William Zbaren
Northwestern University Press

The first lecture, to take place on Wednesday May 16, 2018, will focus on the career of John Vinci, who worked beside Hasbrouck in saving Glessner House.  Vinci is the subject of an impressive and beautifully illustrated new book released in 2017, and he and the authors will be present for this inaugural lecture in the series.  We are deeply grateful to Paul and Margaret Lurie, long-time friends of the Hasbroucks, for providing initial funding for the first several years of the series.  Additional gifts are being sought to continue the series so that it can become a permanent fixture in our offerings to the preservation community.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Time Travelers Program Resumes for Second Year

On Tuesday March 6, 2018, Glessner House Museum launched the second year of its popular Time Travelers program.  Funded by a generous grant from the Society of Architectural Historians American Architecture and Landscape Field Trip Program, Time Travelers provides an opportunity for third grade student “detectives” from underserved neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side to explore how architecture and design impact their everyday lives.  Students were divided into three groups appropriately named Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, and Scooby-Doo.

The program also encourages observation and analysis of buildings and furnishings; compares late 19th- and early 20th-century life with today; and demonstrates what the students have learned through a variety of hands-on activities.  A PowerPoint presentation sent to the teacher ahead of time prepares students with background on the house and the various people connected with it, including Glessner family members, the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and members of the live-in staff.

Students walked around the exterior of the building noting such details as building materials (granite, limestone, brick, clay tile roof tiles, etc.), placement and number of windows and doors, and thinking about why the house looked so different from others on Prairie Avenue at the time.  They looked for details including the pair of carved granite ouroboros on the fa├žade and where the architect’s monogram can be found.  The carriage drive introduced the eight servants who lived in the house, and how their living and working spaces were separated from those of the family.

A favorite room in the house was the schoolroom designed for the Glessners’ two children, George and Fanny.  Students indicated whether or not they would like to be homeschooled.  They had the opportunity here for a few hands-on activities including tapping a telegraph (just like one George kept in the room), hearing it buzz and learning how Morse code allowed George to send messages to his friends – an early form of texting as they said!  Students were also able to use stereoscopes to see 3-D images on antique stereoview cards.

Coming into the main hall, students had the opportunity to explore the many types of objects the family collected including ceramics and glass, as well as carved furniture, and textiles with a variety of patterns including dragons.  They enjoyed hearing how the Glessner grandchildren would slide down the bannister of the main staircase and try to land on the main hall carpet in the center medallion, which they referred to as the “blueberry pie.”  Many of the students quickly recognized the portrait of the “big” architect – H. H. Richardson – that the Glessners always displayed in the main hall.

In the master bedroom they saw several pieces of hand-carved furniture made the Glessners’ good friend Isaac Scott.  They asked about the fireplace and why there was coal in this fireplace, as opposed to wood in the main hall fireplace. 

The library introduced students to the Glessners’ large collection of books of which nearly 3,000 are still on the shelves today.  They learned how important learning was to the family, and how Frances Glessner held a weekly Monday Morning Reading Class for her friends in the room for over 35 years.  All agreed that the enormous partner’s desk in the middle of the room was the biggest desk they had ever seen, and there were mixed reactions to the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Upon reaching the parlor, students “found” the large Steinway piano they had seen in the PowerPoint presentation in class and marveled at the intricately detailed birds on the hand-painted canvas wallcovering.  The dining room introduced the idea of the extension table and how the room was shaped to accommodate it when fully opened.  They were able to peak inside the silver closet to see pieces that Frances Glessner made by hand, and they learned about the dinner parties where it took nearly three hours to serve and consume the eight-course meal.

The kitchen proved to be one of the most popular spaces in the house (and not just because of all the fake food).  Students were asked why the specific materials on the floor and walls were used, and what items were absent that they have in their kitchen at home.  They also enjoyed seeing the annunciator and learned how family and guests could call for a servant from anywhere in the house.  In returning to the coach house, they had the opportunity to walk through the large cold closet or icebox and see how the Glessners had a window put in there to help keep food cold in the winter.

Returning to the coach house, where the tour began, students were directed to several options for hands-on activities.  At the journaling table, they were given a series of questions, and they could record their favorite memories of the tours in writing or by drawing pictures.  A second table showed floorplans and using graph paper, the students were able to sketch out the configuration and types of rooms they would like to have in their own dream house.  

The most popular activity involved brightly-colored straws and connectors to create inventive structures. 

Before departing for the day, the students gathered on and around the curved porch in the courtyard, recreating the famous 1902 picture of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.  A folder of materials provided further activities once back in the classroom including a word search and crossword puzzle containing terms learned during the tour, a floor plan of the house, and a Morse code message to decipher. 

An enjoyable time was had by all – students, teacher, chaperones, docents, and staff!

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