Society of Architectural Historians Plots a Future for the Charnley-Persky House

Chicago-based Harboe Architects will develop a conservation management plan for the building, which celebrates the 125th anniversary of its design this year.


When a blocked sewer caused major water damage to the 1891-1892 Louis Sullivan- and Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Charnley-Persky House in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood in August 2014, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), which has owned the building since 1995, was quick to repair the damage. But the extent of the damage and abruptness of the repair left the SAH thinking that it needed to do something more to preserve the national historic landmark.

“It made us worry about, in this older building, what other problems were out there that we weren’t aware of,” says SAH executive director Pauline Saliga. “We needed more information in order to address them proactively.”

The solution? The SAH announced last week that it would develop a conservation management plan that would provide a set of recommendations for a future, staged restoration as well as identify any immediate repair needs. The SAH also hopes that the plan will explore new uses for the building beyond its current function of housing the SAH’s headquarters and hosting twice-weekly tours and programs. “There are many ‘house museums’ that are doing a lot of soul-searching right now about how they’re going to manage financially now and in the future and they’re developing really innovative new focuses and branding,” Saliga says. “We need to look at a whole array of possibilities for this house.”

The 2014 flood—along with the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the building's design this year and a $123,000 grant from the Chicago-based Alphawood Foundation—gave the SAH the capital needed to begin the process. The society hired Harboe Architects, a historical preservation firm based in Chicago and known for restoration work on a number of Wright buildings as well as its master plan for the architect’s Taliesin West campus. Harboe’s five-person team will work with consultants to study the structure and its history.

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