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A Bad Year for Architecture?

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 10, 2006 8:00PM

Last night a fire tore through the Wynant House in Gary, Indiana, an uninhabited Frank Lloyd Wright landmark whose long-uncertain fate was quickly and cruelly realized. The good news is that no one was injured or killed and since the fire worked quickly, we presume the house felt no pain either. The bad news for architecture buffs is that two major area landmarks have been wiped off the map in less than a week.

chameyerhouse.jpgWhile the Wynant House demise isn’t as tragic as last weekend’s Pilgrim Baptist Church fire, its destruction reopens discussion about how architectural treasures lacking a posh address or a National Historic Register citation are to be preserved and whether it’s even worth the trouble. Wynant reminds us that Wright’s commissions and influence extend far beyond Oak Park, that the celebrated architect believed fine design isn’t just for rich folks. But good intentions are harder to preserve in a town like Gary. Last year, the Reader and the Christian Science Monitor cited Wynant and Wright’s other Gary projects as sobering reminders that well-meaning architectural preservation can’t stop urban decay.

Wynant was an early example of the American System of Housing, an innovative pre-WWI scheme that incorporated mass materials and unique design to render Wright’s large squares and long lines inexpensively. In its final days, Wynant’s rehab was enthusiastically supported by the non-profit American Heritage Home Trust to help make Gary a cultural tourism destination.

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