Frank Lloyd Wright’s World-Famous “Playhouse” Reduces Its Asking Price to $650K

Frank Lloyd Wright’s World-Famous “Playhouse” Reduces Its Asking Price to $650K

By Kathryn M.
Originally a private school and now a single-family residence, the 1912 design showcases Wright’s iconic “kinder-symphony” windows.

A unique piece of Frank Lloyd Wright history is still seeking a buyer after two years on the market in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The 1912 Avery Coonley Playhouse—originally a private schoolhouse on the estate of industrialist Avery Coonley and his wife, Queen—was among Wright's first important commissions following his return from Europe in 1911. Yet, just a few years after its completion, the Coonley's hired architect William Drummond to convert the structure into a single-family residence, as it remains today.

The 1912 Avery Coonley Playhouse was originally commissioned as part of a larger, Wright-designed estate that included the equally famous Avery Coonley House. Queene Ferry Coonley founded a private elementary school that used the Playhouse until the late 1910s, at which time the property was divided from the larger estate and converted into a single-family residence.

The current owners purchased the property in the early '80s and proceeded to reverse decades of haphazard alterations with the help of restoration architect John Vinci. Once the auditorium, a grand living area features reproductions of Wright's iconic "kinder-symphony" windows, the originals having been removed and sold to museums by previous owners.

Wright designed the structure to contrast many vertical elements with dominant horizontal forms, merging it all together with finishes such as tinted plaster on the walls and rough sawn cedar wood trim. Yet, it's the building's colorful stained glass windows that steal the show. Known as Wright's "kinder-symphony" windows, the modernistic composition of circular and square shapes conveys elements of a children's parade—balloons, confetti, and flags—and are considered to be the architect's most important window design.

A historical look at the building's central auditorium circa 1915, when it was still a school. A trio of the original 'kinder-symphony' windows stand at the end, with corresponding clerestory windows along each side; other variations on the windows were scattered throughout.

Many of the structure's original windows were removed in the 1950/60s and sold to various museums and private collectors. Shown here, the trio of windows from the auditorium are held in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The current owners, Ted Smith and Susan Shipper-Smith, significantly restored the home since purchasing it in 1980. ''We bought it out of love and blindness,'' said Susan in a 1987 interview with the Chicago Tribune shortly after completing initial renovation projects. Massive structural issues burdened the house, including the removal of five inches of roofing material to fix leaks. False walls and other inauthentic features were removed from the interior, along with yards of grass cloth and mirrors from the walls. The couple also re-plastered the walls to match the original tinted finish.

A smaller area located off of the original auditorium was used as a workshop for the children. Today, it is a library and seating area. Light fixtures throughout the home are either original or recreated using the originals as models. 

Another view of the library area with a kinder-symphony window in the center.

After nearly 40 years owning the property, Smith and Shipper-Smith are ready to move on. The couple first listed the two-bedroom, two-bath home in 2018 for $800,000, recently reducing the price to $650,000. While some areas of the home are modernized, further renovations may be needed.

Yet, what the home may lack to some it makes up for in space and location—offering a 3,500-square-foot floor plan and and a prime lot in Riverside, the masterplanned neighborhood designed by iconic landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Keep scrolling to see more.

Another wing of the home is now a dining area, family room, and kitchen. Skylights illuminate the beamed and wood-clad ceilings.

A look at one of two bedrooms, both of which have been modernized. Large sliders help to brighten the space while providing direct access to the yard.

The smaller bedroom also provides direct access to the patio.

A rear view of the home.

A look at an early plan of the Avery Coonley Playhouse. Spaces were altered during the subsequent conversion into a single-family residence by William Drummond.

The Avery Coonley Playhouse, located at 350 Fairbank Road in Riverside, Illinois, is currently listed for $650,000 by Mike Mccurry of Compass.

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