B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Frank Lloyd Wright 1900

Posted by George Pudlo on January 12, 2012 at 5:35 PM


      Special thanks to Wright in Kankakee for providing the photographs.

B Harley Bradley House

701 S Harrison Avenue

Kankakee, IL 60901

The easiest way to tell the story of the B Harley Bradley House is to first share that the house has had many alterations over the years. From a private residence, to a restaurant, to a law firm, to a museum, the B Harley Bradley House has worn many hats. But its real hat, and the stucco body underneath, have the distinction of beginning Wright's Prairie Period. 

It is in the B Harley Bradley House that we see the first organized realization of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style. Here we begin to see a culmination of new ideas and previously experimental ideas, that would carry through in Wright’s work for the rest of his Prairie Period, and the rest of his seventy plus year career. One could argue that this was the first time a Frank Lloyd Wright house looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright House.

The B Harley Bradley House was incredibly modern for the time period. The contemporary reaction to the house from its late Victorian era neighbors would have ranged from curiosity to confusion. Everything about it was different. The house is low to the ground, hugging the earth, and only half the height of some of its neighboring houses. It is simple in expression, though complex in function. It has an inherent grandiosity that speaks of great prestige and beauty through simplified geometrical masses. If one stands from the street, the house mysteriously conceals the entrance, so that by the time you do find the entrance, you are surrounded by the building before you enter the building. The entrance of this house, and of Wright’s typical house in the future, is unassuming and needs not shout for attention.

Inside the Bradley House, we see common themes of Wright’s later work for the first time with elements such as wooden trim boards running along the ceiling and soft, earthy hues mixed into the stucco. In the spatial layout of the house, the great room, would be the prototype of Wright’s future Prairie Houses, including the Ward Willits House, the Edwin Cheney House, and the Avery Coonley House. As pointed out by Wright historian Thomas Heinz, the great room has dimensions of 24’x 27’ which were replicated in the aforementioned properties.

The Bradley’s moved into their new home in the summer of 1901, but lived there only for twelve years, and moved out by 1913 to a farm in Iowa. Their time in the house named for them, was perhaps the least interesting of its century plus existence. The Bradley’s sold their house to a Mr. Cook, who in turn sold them his Iowa farm.

Cook lived in the B Harley Bradley House only until 1915, when he sold it to Joseph Dodson, a long time Chicago Board of Trade member and bird lover. Dodson was a one time president of the National Audubon Society, and selected the Bradley House as his place of retirement with the intention of using the carriage house as a space for making and selling birdhouses. Dodson lived there until his death in 1949, whereupon he bequeathed the Bradley House and the carriage house to his secretary Mrs. Nellis.

In 1953, Marvin Hammack and Ray Schimel purchased the Bradley House and converted into a restaurant known as The Yesteryear. It was a very popular restaurant for thirty years, with diners sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to eat there. However, Yesteryear closed in 1983 when the owners fell ill and many of the home’s Wright designed pieces were sold off, including some of the original art glass. The following year, a Kankakee resident unsuccessfully tried to revive the restaurant.

In 1986, the B Harley Bradley House was purchased by Stephen Small, a wealthy businessman who intended to restore the house and live there. However, Small never had the chance to restore the house as he was kidnapped and subsequently murdered in September of 1987.

Small was an officer of Mid America Media, a multi-state media conglomerate, and served on the board of Meadowview Bank. In the early morning of September 2, 1987, Small received a phone call from the house he and his wife were living in while the Bradley House was being restored. The caller himself as a Kankakee Police Officer and said there had been a break in at the Bradley House. Small left their home to investigate the Bradley House, where he was then kidnapped.

The kidnappers called Small’s wife and demanded a ransom of $1million for Small, whom they handcuffed and buried alive in a 6’x3’ plywood box underground. Mrs. Small then contacted the authorities against the explicit wishes of the kidnappers, and her phone lines were tapped. She received several more calls from the kidnappers throughout the day regarding the ransom, but later received a phone call from them rejecting the ransom because they knew authorities had been contacted.

FBI agents were able to track down the kidnappers, and Danny Edwards and Nancy Rish were arrested. Edwards then took police to the site where they had buried Small, and police officers dug up the box with Small’s body enclosed. Also in the box were a light connected to a car battery, a gallon of water, candy bars, gum, and a flashlight. There was also a tube that ran from the box above ground, but its diameter was too small for sufficient breathing and Smalls subsequently suffocated.

After Small’s death, the house remained vacant until 1990, when four business partners purchased the Bradley House and converted it into an office complex. They dramatically altered the Bradley House by knocking down interior walls. In the time lapse of fifteen years through 2005, the carriage house remained vacant and fell into disrepair.

Threat of the carriage house’s demolition prompted Gaines and Sharon Hall to purchase the property and fully restore it back to Wright’s 1901 condition. They poured an ungodly amount of time, energy, money, and heart into the restoration with the hope of it eventually becoming a museum.

In January of 2010, a not for profit corporation called Wright in Kankakee formed with the intent to acquire the B Harley Bradley House and open the house through the Hall’s vision. By the end of June 2010, the Halls sold the house to Wright in Kankakee and it is now open to the public as a house museum.

Categories: Prairie Houses, Frank Lloyd Wright Kankakee (IL)

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1 Comment

Reply Marykayabblett
9:00 AM on April 2, 2012 
Have relatives there and wish I would have known I could have combined a Frank Lloyd Wright home and the family his home air conditioned?thks Mary Kay's Cateriing!


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