NIU group to experience rare tour of Wright homes

By Jim Harris

NIU students will have a chance to tour a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home that is only open for night-time tours once a year.

This year, the rare tour of the Dana-Thomas House is scheduled for Dec. 19. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is sponsoring a TraveLearn program to participate in the tour of the Wright house and two other historic homes in the area.

The NIU group will tour the Dana-Thomas House twice. The first tour will take place at 2 p.m. that day. The night tour will take place that evening at 4:30 p.m.

According to Steve Johnson, director of external programming for the College of LA&S, this program will study the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright primarily, but the group also will visit two other houses, the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, and the Abraham Lincoln home, also in Springfield.

NIU art professor Richard Cooler will accompany the group and highlight Wright’s architecture in a pre-trip seminar in the Holmes Student Center on Dec. 4. Seminars like this usually precede TraveLearn trips.

The Dana-Thomas House, constructed between 1902 and 1904, is recognized as the most preserved and complete of Wright’s early prairie houses.

Johnson said Wright’s prairie houses have a low, horizontal design. Unlike other houses Wright designed, this house involved a complete restructuring of a 30-year-old brick house. Original pieces of Wright-designed furniture are still intact, as are the original doors, windows and light panels.

The Davis Mansion was built in 1871, and will be visited to compare and contrast styles with the Dana-Thomas house.

Johnson said the mansion is now surrounded by several ranch houses, a design derived from Wright’s prairie home. The mansion was restored fully by the state of Illinois, and will be the first stop of the day, at 10 a.m.

The Lincoln house, a house once lived in by Abraham Lincoln, will be visited after the first Dana-Thomas tour, at 3:15 p.m. The house is only two blocksaway from the Dana-Thomas House.

He said the it is a “different house at night” because of the indoor lighting. Wright’s houses have a large amount of windows that shed light throughout the home. At night, the absence of light gives the home a different feel, Johnson said.

“This TraveLearn program is a unique opportunity for persons interested in architecture to see some of the finest homes in Illinois and to visit the Dana-Thomas house the only day of the year that the home is opened in the evening. Professor Cooler will lead another exciting TraveLearn program examining Frank Lloyd Wright,” Johnson said.

Anyone interested in registering for the program should call 753-0277 or go to Adams Hall, room 133. The fee is $39 for students and $59 for the public if paid before Dec. 3. After Dec. 3, the price increases by $10 for both groups.