Among the classic stately mansions you’ll find along the Gold Coast, one house stands out. The Charnley-Persky House at 1365 North Astor Street is noteworthy for both its symmetrical design and for the architects who designed it. The design dream team was Louis Sullivan and his junior draftsman: Frank Lloyd Wright.
This structure was one of the fascinating architectural gems open to visitors during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago 2015 event. The home was built in 1891 and now houses the Society of Architectural Historians. Originally, it was a family home, albeit it one designed by legendary architect architects.
The building gets the first half of its hyphenated name from James Charnley a lumberman. Charnley had access to fine wood, which explains the use of expensive white oak inside the home. The other half of the name derives from Seymour Persky, a philanthropist who wanted the house to always be open and available to the public.
From the outside, the Charnley-Persky House fits in with other buildings on this stretch of tony Astor Street with its brick and limestone façade. Inside, the foyer is light-filled, a results of a large rectangular atrium on the third floor.
Look around the interior of the house and you’ll quickly recognize signature elements from both Sullivan and Wright. It’s most evident in the ornamentation. For example, the bannister posts bear intricate woodcarvings that reflect Louis Sullivan’s interest in sinewy plants. But just above the foyer are 99 parallel spindles bearing the unmistakable trademark of Wright’s geometric forms. Another example of Wright’s signature design is the dental teeth motif throughout the house.
Most likely Wright designed the mantel over the fireplace in the study, while Sullivan handled the one in the dining room.
Although Sullivan liked and respected Wright, some historians believe there’s a reason the junior architect was only allowed to work on parts of the home. It may be because Sullivan learned Wright was moonlighting on other projects.
NOTE: The Charnley-Persky House was one of several Open House Chicago locations that were open for tours only to Chicago Architecture Foundation members. The Chicago Architecture Blog was provided with priority viewing for the Charnley-Persky House by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.