|Posted by George Pudlo on January 13, 2012 at 2:05 PM|
Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Front View
Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Detail
Fabyan Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright 1907, Rear View
Fabyan Villa Windmill
Fabyan Villa Bear Cage
1511 S Batavia Road
Geneva, IL 60134
One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser known buildings turned house museum is the George Fabyan Villa in Geneva, Illinois. Located on more than 200 acres along the Fox River, this incredible site is full of whimsy and ruins. Previously owned as a private estate, the Fabyan Villa is now operated by the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.
Colonel George Fabyan was born in 1867, the same year as Wright. Fabyan was a millionaire, whose fortune he acquired from his father’s successful cotton business. In 1905, George Fabyan and his wife Nelle acquired a mid 19th century farmhouse on more than 300 acres of land, and they dubbed their estate “Riverbank”. Initially used as a retreat from their Chicago home, Fabyan commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to extensively remodel the farmhouse in 1907, at which point the Fabyan’s made Riverbank their permanent home. Wright also designed a country club on the estate, which later burned to the ground.
Frank Lloyd Wright completely transformed the original farmhouse into a charming villa with Prairie motifs. Though not considered to be a fully mature Prairie House, the Fabyan Villa carries many of the typical Wright characteristics of his early 20th century work. The floor plan was modified so that the Fabyan Villa now has a semi cruciform layout. The cross gabled roof is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s own Oak Park home. Broad overhanging roof eaves articulate the roof and provide shelter to the windows beneath. A combination of materials was used in Wright’s remodeling of the Fabyan Villa, including concrete, wood, brick , and plaster. Concrete pylons support the terraces, while wooden screens surround them. Bands of geometric windows allow for maximum light efficiency. Overall the Fabyan Villa conveys a sense of shelter and a positive relationship to its natural site.
The Fabyan Villa sinks into the earth near the top of a very long, low grade hill that terminates at the Fox River and overlooks the estate. Walking down the hill, one knows not where to begin. Just below the Fabyan Villa and off to the side are ruins of a once great fountain. On the other side of the hill, below the Villa, is the historic 1910 Japanese Garden designed by Taro Otsuka, containing small, arched bridges, ponds, and a Japanese teahouse. Next to the Japanese Garden is a curious pavilion in the shape of an octogan, with barred windows. Turns out, this used to be the home of the Fabyan’s pet black bears: Mary, Tom, and Jerry. After the bears’ passing, picnic tables were inserted in the cage and its function became a picnic site. Humorously, the bars were not removed, and it still retains a sign that reads “Bear Cage”.
Directly beneath the Villa, a long, open-air tunnel covered in vines brings guests to a rustic gate opening to the Fox River. A questionable concrete bridge allows visitors to cross a manmade cove and continue on to cross the Fox River. There, they are led by peculiar sculptures to a massive windmill that seems fantastically out of context. The Fabyans purchased the windmill in 1914 from a farm in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they had it transferred to Riverbank. The windmill housed a bakery that, according to legend, supposedly made bread for the Fabyan’s bears. The windmill was later honored with a US postage stamp for providing a source of grain for the local community during war-time rationing.
The Fabyan’s lived on this eccentric estate fit for royalty until 1939, at which point the Kane County Forest Preserve purchased most of the estate and turned the Fabyan Villa into a museum. In 1995, the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley took over that role, and continue to operate tours of the home and the estate.