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Fire Guts Rare FLW House in Indiana

Story by Margaret Foster / Jan. 17, 2006

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Gary, Ind.
The Wynant House before the fire (Citywide Services Chicago Real Estate Appraisers)

Last week, a fire destroyed most of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house built in 1916 for Wilbur and Etta Wynant in Gary, Ind. No one was hurt in the Jan. 9 blaze, which is still under investigation, according to the Gary Fire Prevention Bureau.

The two-story stucco house was one of only 11 of Wright's American System-Built houses, an affordable modular line the architect produced with the Wisconsin-based Richards Co. The Wynant House was the last model of its kind.

"It was a total loss," says Tina Connor, executive vice president of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, which bought the deteriorating house in the 1990s. "Because it was a Frank Lloyd Wright house and because there aren't very many American System houses left, we thought it was important to try to rescue it and attach our covenants, which require restoration," Connor says.

The house had been abandoned, its ties to Wright all but forgotten, until city official Chris Meyer identified it as Wright's design in 1995. The foundation stepped forward to buy it and then sold the house in 1999 to the American Heritage Home Trust, a nonprofit based in Olympia, Wash., which planned to restore it as a bed-and-breakfast. In 2003, it was sold it to Chicago-area resident David Muhammed, who made repairs to it last summer. (Muhammed could not be reached for comment.)

"The first buyer had a great intentions that just didn't work out, but we thought the fellow they sold it to was making some good headway," Connor says.

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