Allison Harlan House Constructed; A "Bootleg House"

As with the residential projects for Adler & Sullivan, Wright designed his bootleg houses on his own time.

Sullivan knew nothing of the independent works until 1893, when he recognized that one of the houses was unmistakably a Frank Lloyd Wright design. This particular house, built for Allison Harlan, was only blocks away from Sullivan’s townhouse in the Chicago community of Kenwood. Aside from the location, the geometric purity of the composition and balcony tracery in the same style as the Charnley House likely gave away Wright’s involvement. Since Wright’s five year contract forbade any outside work, the incident led to his departure from Sullivan’s firm. A variety of stories recount the break in the relationship between Sullivan and Wright; even Wright later told two different versions of the occurrence. In An Autobiography, Wright claimed that he was unaware that his side ventures were a breach of his contract. When Sullivan learned of them, he was angered and offended; he prohibited any further outside commissions and refused to issue Wright the deed to his Oak Park house until after he completed his five years. Wright couldn’t bear the new hostility from his master and thought the situation was unjust.

While working for Adler and Sullivan in 1888-93, Wright accepted commissions for seven private houses, which he designed after hours – a violation of his employment contract. Despite his efforts to conceal these ‘bootleg’ jobs by using the name of his architect friend Cecil Corwin to announce the commissions in the trade press, he was eventually discovered by Sullivan. This house for Allison Harlan, designed in 1891 and built in Sullivan’s neighborhood in 1892, led to Wright’s departure from the side of his greatest teacher.

During his years with Sullivan, Wright had become skilled in the geometric, nature-based ornament the master preferred and used it here in fret-sawn panels across the front of the house. The conventionalized tracery patterns on the balcony and in the entry hall were similar to the motifs Wright used on the balcony and stairhall in the Charnley house in Chicago, done the same year for a Sullivan client. This, combined with the design’s geometric freshness, could easily have given away Wright’s authorship. In 1956 Wright told Dr. Harlan’s daughter that it was the ‘first house built my own way.

Wright included other features that he developed further in his later Prairie Style houses. The low, hipped roof and broad, sheltering eaves, the indirect entrance and generous verandas, the casement windows, the spindled screens in the stairhall, and the simple geometric forms – all were unusual for the time and marked Wright’s determination to break away from convention. The two-story house had six bedrooms, several of which opened onto balconies.

Dr. Harlan, a dentist, demanded several changes to Wright’s plan. The fireplace was moved from the central hall into the open living room, which was then divided into two parts. In about 1904, Harlan traded houses with his neighbors, the Byrneses, who sold Wright’s structure in 1912. Vacant for years, it became a neighborhood hangout. For a short time it was used as a nursing home and then fell into ruin. A fire [in 1963] caused enough damage to require its demolition.