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As Unity Temple crafts message, activists send their own

Advocacy group projects Frank Lloyd Wright quotes in apparent opposition to tower plan

December 10th, 2018 3:14 PM

"Maybe we can show government how to operate better as a result of better architecture." -- Frank Lloyd Wright | Photo by Paul Goyette

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The 28-story tower proposed by Golub & Company hit a roadblock with pronouncements by Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and most of the board of trustees opposing the height of the structure and its potential negative impact on Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple.

The proposed development prompted a group called Oak Park Call to Action to project images onto the Lake Street façade of Unity Temple over the weekend, quoting its famed architect.

Local photographer Paul Goyette, who said he is a member of Oak Park Call to Action, said he was asked to take photos of the quotes that were projected on the side of the temple. They appear to be in response to the tower proposal.

Those Wright quotes state:

  • "Respect the masterpiece. It is true reverence to man. There is no quality so great, none so much needed now."
  • "Maybe we can show government how to operate better as a result of better architecture."

Both Rev. Alan Taylor, senior minister at Unity Temple, and Heidi Ruehle-May, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, said they had nothing to do with the projections.

No one from Oak Park Call to Action was available for comment, according to Goyette, who is a photographic contributor to Wednesday Journal.

Taylor said in a telephone interview that he and the leadership at Unity Temple were "taken aback that another group was using our building for their own agenda."

"I am disappointed that a group outside of Unity Temple would have an action like this claiming to be defending Unity Temple while not contacting the leadership of either the congregation or the restoration foundation," he said.

Meanwhile, the church's congregation, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy are conferring with their respective boards and members on how to respond to the proposed tower development.

Arguments have largely centered around the shadow the proposed building by Golub will cast on Unity Temple, blocking sunlight into the building for part of the day, which was one of the key design elements of the building.

Unity Temple features stained-glass skylights and clerestory windows – located above eye level – around the sanctuary to allow natural sunlight into the building.

The building also just underwent a $25 million restoration, which rehabbed much of the interior and exterior of the building. Opponents of the project worry that construction could cause vibrations that could damage the newly renovated structure.

Unity Temple also is included in a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings across the country in the process of being nominated as a World Heritage Site, a designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its cultural significance.

Taylor said in an email to Wednesday Journal that the congregation's leadership is generally grateful for statements of support for Unity Temple from the community and its leadership.

"We are grateful for Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb expressing his support of a development that has the support and buy-in of Unity Temple," Taylor wrote.

That references a letter Abu-Taleb penned on Dec. 5 (and which accompanies this story), stating "I do not envision, nor do I support a 28-story building on this site" without Unity Temple's blessing.

Taylor said in his email to Wednesday Journal that the congregation is in conversation with its members to craft a response to the proposal.

"Unity Temple is the first house of worship to have stained glass both in the ceiling and around all four sides of the sanctuary," Taylor wrote. "Its architectural design provides for a composition of light within the sanctuary that sometimes makes worship magical.

"I understand that Frank Lloyd Wright felt that Unity Temple was his most significant contribution to the history of architecture and therefore his most famous building. Why is this so? I defer to architects and the leaders of UTRF, the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to explain why."

Ruehle-May said her board, too, is crafting a response to the proposal.

She said that the $25 million restoration of the building, completed last year, is not fully paid for. The foundation still needs $10 million in donations to pay off the renovation project.

That project included a restoration of the exterior, which was cracking, along with new interior plaster walls and paint. The interior rehab included restoring art glass and skylights in the sanctuary, along with restoration of the plaster walls, paint finishes and woodwork. Environmental improvements – a geothermal heating and cooling system and upgraded electrical system – also added to the steep price tag.

Ruehle-May said that like the congregation, the restoration foundation has met with Golub & Company officials privately. Asked if the developer has made offers to contribute to the restoration project, Ruehle-May said they had not.

She said the restoration foundation's concerns are twofold – the impact the shadow of the building would have and the impact on the building during construction.

Ruehle-May acknowledged that it is a concern, noting that Unity Temple's foundation is about four to five feet below the ground and vibrations from construction are a concern. Golub officials have said publicly that the proposed project would not require excavation and that caissons would be used to anchor the building.

That would cause fewer vibrations, argues Golub vice president Michael Glazier, who said the company would monitor the vibrations during construction to ensure no damage is caused to Unity Temple.

Glazier has said the LED lighting added to Unity Temple during the restoration would limit the impact of the shadow through the stained glass in the sanctuary. Ruehle-May said the lighting was added to provide light through the evening and dark hours of the day.

"It's really the sunlight that creates the visual effect that Wright intended," she said in a telephone interview. About 25,000 people visit Unity Temple every year, she said.

tim@oakpark.com