Coonley House

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Avery Coonley House
Avery Coonley House, 300 Scottswood Road, 281 Bloomingbank Road, Riverside (Cook County, Illinois).jpg
Coonley House is located in Illinois
Coonley House
Location 300 Scottswood Road and 281 Bloomingbank Road, Riverside, Illinois
Coordinates 41°49′13.98″N 87°49′43.03″W / 41.8205500°N 87.8286194°W / 41.8205500; -87.8286194Coordinates: 41°49′13.98″N 87°49′43.03″W / 41.8205500°N 87.8286194°W / 41.8205500; -87.8286194
Built 1908
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright
Architectural style Prairie School
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 70000243
Significant dates
Added to NRHP December 30, 1970[1]
Designated NHL December 30, 1970[2]

The Avery Coonley House, also known as Coonley House or Coonley Estate was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Constructed in 1908, this is an estate of several buildings built on the banks of the Des Plaines River in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It is itself a National Historic Landmark and is included in another National Historic Landmark, the Riverside Historic District.


The Avery Coonley House (built 1908) in Riverside, Illinois is located on a small peninsula surrounded by the Des Plaines River. Of the few estates that Frank Lloyd Wright developed, it is one of his largest and most elaborate prairie school-homes ever built. It is also the first example in Wright's work of a zoned plan. The raised second floor includes 4 zones: The public area (living room and dining room), the bedroom wing, the pendant guest wing and finally the kitchen and servants areas. The entrance halls, playroom and sewing room are on the ground floor. Not your average house, this 9000 plus square foot residence built on a ten-acre parcel has been referred to as an American version of the Palazzo Style. An entire complex of interrelated buildings with extensive raised and sunken gardens designed by famous landscape architect Jens Jensen. The main structure of the Avery Coonley Estate is the public/living room wing, located on Bloomingbank Road and behind that facing Scottswood Road is the bedroom wing of the mansion. The complex also includes a separate stable/coach house and gardener's cottage (1911).

Avery Coonley and his wife, Queene Fairy Coonley were both heirs to industrial fortunes and had an unlimited budget to commission a new residence. The Coonleys had investigated Wright's other homes and told him that they saw in his work "the countenances of principle". Wright stated in his autobiography that "This was to me a great and sincere compliment. So I put my best into the Coonley House." Wright considered the Coonley House among his finest works and gave the Coonley's a residence that blended indoors and out and felt as much like a little village as a home, given the way the courtyards, buildings, and garden walls interconnected. He designed all the features and furnishings within the home, including rugs and textiles. Wright had been rumored to have designed dresses worn by Queene Fairy to compliment the interior surroundings. The designs of the Coonley House were included in his 1907 exhibition at the Chicago Architectural Club. Construction began a year later.

A philanthropic couple, The Coonley's had progressive beliefs which included early education for children. At four years old, their only daughter Elizabeth was too young to attend the local school. To educate her child and others, Queene Ferry requested that Wright designed a kindergarten, The Avery Coonley School Playhouse in 1912 on nearby Fairbank Road, a block away from the main residence. The art glass windows of the Coonley Playhouse feature one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most well known designs. A pattern based on balloons, confetti and American flags, very festive for the intended use of the structure, the design used in these windows was artistically striking and represents Wright’s first departure from his signature style using only straight lines. The windows of the Coonley Playhouse are now all replicas, the originals having been removed in the middle of the 20th century at a time when Wright's work was either being saved or dissected and sold for large sums of money. Many of the originals can be seen in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago which prominently displays one of the windows near its main entrance. The colored side of the art glass windows faced the inside of the house, while the outsides that faced the exterior are white. The kindergarten school moved from the Coonley Playhouse in Riverside to a larger facility in Downers Grove in 1916 and eventually became a full K-8 elementary school and still exists today. The original Coonley Playhouse near the estate in Riverside is currently a private residence.

Alterations to the Coonley House have been made through the years, by Wright and others. Threatened with demolition in 1952 by an architect-developer who planned to bulldoze the building and erect ranch homes, the property was instead purchased by Jim and Carolyn Howlett and split among four owners. The main house was divided into two residences and the coach house and gardener's cottage were all given separate addresses. A heater for the swimming pool exploded on June 11, 1978, setting a fire that destroyed the living room of the main house. It has since been meticulously restored to its original splendor including the re-creation of the George Mann Niedecken living room mural as well as the decorative tulip designed tile frieze with many light screens that surround the perimeter of the house. The raised gardens were sold off and a modern house was built on the property.

During his lifetime, Frank Lloyd Wright built 532 homes, museums, and office buildings. Many have been demolished, but more than 400 Wright-designed buildings still stand. Of the approximately 2,500 NHLs in the United States, twenty six were designed by Wright. Included is The Avery Coonley House which is the largest, privately owned Frank Lloyd Wright house to be recognized by the United States Secretary of the Interior and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.[2][3]

The village of Riverside is one of the oldest planned communities in the United States, dating back to the early 1870s. It was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted - designer of both Central Park in New York City and Jackson Park (fairgrounds of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893). The streets of Riverside wind and crisscross, forming small islands of houses and green space; quite a contrast to the strict grid of nearby Chicago.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ a b "Avery Coonley House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  3. ^ Charles W. Snell (March 5, 1970). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Avery Coonley House" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-06-27. . Accompanying 7 photos, exterior, from 1970 and undated. PDF (3.31 MB)

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