A tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Henry J. Allen house
Nearly one hundred years after being built, Wichita’s Frank Lloyd Wright house is finally coming out of hiding.
The buff-brick house on a residential street in College Hill, open only by appointment since 1992, recently began opening a couple of mornings a week, and the schedule will expand soon for twilight tours and garden parties, with the ultimate goal of being open every day, said its new, first full-time employee, Amy Reep.
Here’s what’s happening:
▪ Late last year, the house started opening for tours each Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m.
▪ Starting May 7, the house will be open for tours every Saturday at 10 a.m.
▪ Those who have seen the house by daylight may want to return to see how it looks in the evening, illuminated by circa-1918 lighting. Starting May 5, the house will be open for twilight tours every first Thursday of the month, at 7 p.m.
▪ The gardens are being restored to their original design, and Friday-night garden parties featuring music and food will be thrown sometime this summer.
▪ The Gilded Garage Gift Shop is being beefed up and is now open 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and whenever tours are going on.
▪ The house is expected to be decorated for the holidays and open for tours at Christmastime.
The zoning of the house, at 255 N. Roosevelt, doesn’t allow it to be open every day, but applying for a zoning change is on Reep’s to-do list since she started as operations manager of the house last week. Before that she was gallery director for the Wichita Center for the Arts.
“I’m so excited just to build the exposure. I feel like it’s a hidden gem,” Reep said Friday of the Allen House, named for its original residents, Henry and Elsie Allen.
While visitors from as far away as Australia have come to Wichita to tour the house – the last of the 200 houses that Wright designed in his trademark Prairie style, designed in 1915 – “there was always kind of that mystery: Is the house open? Can you see it?” Reep said of Wichitans’ perception of the house.
The house was under private ownership until 1989, was restored in 1991, and then was rezoned so that it could open only for small-group tours by appointment in 1992, which was in keeping with the desire of the neighbors at the time, Howard Ellington of the Allen House Foundation said. Anyone who wanted to see the house had to have a group of at least five people to book a tour.
Since then, 500 to 1,000 people have visited each year, including book clubs, college classes and Frank Lloyd Wright fans from all over the world, and lots of individual Wichitans, Reep said.
“As far as visitors traveling in, having definite times has definitely helped,” she said. About 800 people visited last year.
“We had visitors from the Netherlands, France, Germany, England, Canada that called to specifically tour, to see the house,” she said. “And of course the United States.”
Most day-trippers come from the Kansas City area, many on the way to Bartlesville, Okla., where they visit Wright’s Price Tower. And now that Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House, relocated to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., is open, they add that one in too.
But “an amazing number” of the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the house have not seen the inside of it, said D.J. LaChapelle, a Frank Lloyd Wright “freak” who lucked into buying a house two doors up when he and his wife, Catherine, moved to town 11 years ago.
“It’s so great that the foundation is working on giving a higher profile of the house. We always thought that should happen, because it’s a jewel.”
The house and grounds can hold as many as 250 people, Reep said. There are 20 off-street parking spots south of the house, as well as street parking. When larger events are scheduled, the house coordinates with St. James Episcopal Church for use of its parking lot.
“People are catching on” to the new hours, Reep said, “and the brand new website is out. We get a lot of hits on that. We’re trying to build up our docent program too. We rely on volunteers for tours, and for gardening: We have several volunteers who are interested strictly in the gardening and preserving the gardens the way they were back in 1918. We’re going to be holding a lot of special events.”
One of the demands has been for evening tours, Reep said. While the original lights are on during day tours, “you don’t see them as much because the lamps are very low-lit. In 1918, they’re just coming out of the gas-lamp era, and the lightbulb is new, so the house takes on a whole different feel with the low lighting.”
Tour groups can be a maximum of 25 people; if there are more than that, another docent is called in, Reep said. Because of that, while reservations are not required for tours, they are requested, either by phone or online, so that enough volunteers are lined up to lead the tours, she said.
“As we get closer to the holidays we’ll be looking at doing holiday tours, the house being decorated for the holidays, and we’ll be looking at tours that will focus on the interior design aspects of the house, in-depth tours on maybe like the landscape-architecture aspect, different focus points of the house.”
Plans are being made for Friday nights in the garden with food and music. “We hope to start that in June. I think that’ll be fun for the neighborhood,” Reep said.
Tours also are still being given by appointment, for a minimum of five people. The cost has increased from $10 to $12, except for students and seniors, who still pay $10, as will members of groups of 10 or more. The tour lasts about an hour, or a little longer depending on people’s questions.
Also of interest to Frank Lloyd Wright fans: An exhibit of Lego models of architectural icons including Wright designs will open May 20 at the Wichita Center for the Arts and run through Aug. 7. Visitors will be able to play with Legos themselves and build their own models on site.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House
Tours: 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, with the addition of 10 a.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. the first Thursday of the month starting in May
Where: 255 N. Roosevelt in College Hill
Cost: $12, $10 for seniors and students
Reservations and more information: www.fllwallenhouse.org, 316-687-1027