New owners seek landmark designation

Hinsdale’s HPC endorses bid to help preserve village’s sole Frank Lloyd Wright design

The Hinsdale Historic Preservation Commission last week recommended local landmark status for the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bagley House.

At their April 5 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the landmark designation application from Lucas Ruecker and Safina Uberoi, owners of the 1894-built Dutch Colonial residence at 121 S. County Line Road. The vote followed a public hearing presentation from Jean Follett, former Hinsdalean and professional preservationist, who is serving as a consultant on the project. Follett outlined significant features of the residence for commissioners, including original doors and woodwork, a largely unmodified first floor and, most notably, the octagonal library on the north side of the house.

“If you drive by this house and think, ‘That’s not a Frank Lloyd Wright,’ well, the octagonal library is the giveaway,” she said. “This library was actually built before the octagonal library at (Wright’s) home and studio in Oak Park.”

Follett also gave some background on the home’s first occupants, Frederick and Grace Bagley. Frederick was a Chicago marble merchant, explaining why the home’s foundation and chimney are faced with marble. Grace was active in social reform efforts, supporting Jane Addams and Hull House as well as overseeing the village’s Fresh Air Home, a country retreat for underprivileged Chicago women and their children.

“The Bagleys built the house to be their weekend house,” Follett remarked, noting its convenient proximity to the Highland Train Station

Although they only owned the home for a few years, they’re responsible for employing a young Wright to build it as he was trying to establish his own practice.

“Their tenure here was short, but they had a very, very big impact, I think, overall,” she said

Ruecker, who purchased the home with Uberoi last summer amid community fears it would be demolished, told commissioners the home’s structure has been “stabilized” in advance of restoration work.

“Our ideal would be to get a lot of the assessment and planning in place this year and basically start next year with full-fledged construction,” he said. “I can’t tell you how happy we are to be here.”

Follett said the first floor remains identical to its original design except for the previous removal of the back porch. The second floor also retains much of the intended layout, she related, and the exterior shingle cladding will return.

“We know the shingles are actually under the siding. We’re hoping to get it back to a place where the roof is shingles and the siding is shingles, because that’s really what it was meant to be from the beginning,” she said.

Commissioners reviewed the list of criteria for landmark designation, agreeing that the Bagley House qualifies in numerous areas. Landmark status helps protect a structure from demolition or alteration and provides eligibility for the Illinois State Historic Tax Credit program.

Hinsdale trustees will consider the commission’s recommendation in issuing their final determination on the application.

John Bohnen, preservation commission chair, expressed his pleasure at the homeowners’ vision and said he hopes there will be open house opportunities during the project.

“It would be in everybody’s interest to educate people as you progress with the work,” Bohnen said to Ruecker, who responded that he shared that desire.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean