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The Laurent House Goes Public


The story of the Kenneth Laurent House (1948-1949) in Rockford, Illinois, will have a new chapter shortly. It appears that the house will become an overnight stay, a house museum, or possibly a combination of the two under the ownership of a newly formed not-for-profit organization. When prior efforts to sell the house did not meet their expectations, original owners Ken and Phyllis Laurent made the decision to move into assisted living and put the house up for auction on December 15. The Laurent House Foundation won the house according to the Rockford Register Star, “for the minimum bid of $480,000 plus a 20 percent buyer’s premium.” The house is unique among Wright’s designs in that it was built specifically as a wheelchair accessible residence. Ken Laurent had recently finished his Navy World War II service when a spinal tumor rendered him a paraplegic. He was recuperating from treatment in a Veterans’ hospital when Wright took the commission.

The Laurent House was one of the buildings selected by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and David Larkin to include in their book Frank Lloyd Wright the Masterworks.

An enthusiastic community group began investigating possible ownership about four years ago when the owners indicated they would be amenable to the house becoming accessible to the public. Lynda Waggoner, director of Fallingwater and Conservancy board member, was invited to visit the house and talk with the group. In 2009 they requested further consultation with the Conservancy resulting in discussions pointing out the preservation pros and cons as well as the financial challenges of converting a private single-family residence to another use. Although the original use is preferred, the US Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation state: “A property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships.” The Conservancy advised that if conversion was the focus, a business plan was absolutely essential and the group did their homework. Ultimately when the group and the Laurent’s were not able to reach a direct sale agreement, the owners decided to list the property for sale in 2010 and then opted to sell at auction just a few weeks ago.

The amount of media coverage generated by the prospect of a Wright building on the auction block was interesting. The normal real estate and architecture outlets ran multiple stories at a national level. The National Trust for Historic Preservation included an interview in their blog, National Public Radio ran a piece and there was an inquiry from Architectural Digest.

Of great concern in the auction process was the risk of a sell-off of the Wright-designed furnishings by a non-preservation minded new owner, an action that would be unthinkable to the Laurent House Foundation. That group is just about to submit their tax-exempt charitable IRS application to become a 501(c) (3) organization. In the meantime, they have rallied strong support from the Rockford press and the local community and raised substantial monies prior to the auction. The group hopes to have cash donations sufficient to cover the transaction at the closing in February and to receive the full benefit of a matching one-to-one grant of up to $500,000 from the State of Illinois. Contributions to the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (
946 N. Second Street, Rockford, IL 61107) can be made online (www.cfnil.org) or by sending a check payable to CFNIL with "Laurent House" on the memo line. Funds in excess of the purchase price and closing costs will be used for needed initial operating and capital expenditures and possibly to start an endowment for the building.

Jerry Heinzeroth, who along with other Rockford volunteers and John Groh of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been instrumental to the project since its inception. After the auction he told the Conservancy, “We are very close to the realization of this dream that many of us have been working on for several years. We still need financial support and when we become the owners of the Laurent House we want to do everything right so we will ask the Conservancy for preservation advice all along the way.”

>>Make a Donation to CFNIL

Ken Laurent died on January 24, 2012, at the age of 92. Read more about his life here


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