Ann Marohn’s appreciation for the works of architect Frank Lloyd Wright has been something of a lifelong affair, though she didn’t always know it.
Growing up in Decatur, Marohn had a childhood friend who lived in a home designed by Wright.
Located on the city’s Near Westside, the wide frame, glass-and-brick residence was “just magical,” she said. “I knew that I would kill to have a sleepover there.”
Despite her ardor, Marohn had never heard of Wright, whose style exemplified the Prairie School movement that had set the standard for Midwest architecture. All she knew was that the house, with its skylights, dressing rooms and infinitively unique ornamentation, spoke for itself.
“Everywhere you looked in that house, there was something interesting,” she said.
Today, Marohn — who has long served as an “interpreter” guide at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park — is a bit more familiar with the man behind the drafting board.
On July 17, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust celebrated the 40th anniversary of the home’s opening to the public by holding three days of free tours. To mark the event, Marohn, who gave the first tour through the landmark home at 951 Chicago Ave. so many years ago, lead the first group of the day.
Standing on the west-facing steps of the residence, surrounded by a small group of invited guests that included members of the village’s board of trustees, Marohn cut a ceremonial ribbon hung in front of the doorway and joked about the “fanfare.”
“I’m not 125 years old,” she exclaimed, a nod to the building’s age. “I am over 40, though.”
Once inside, Marohn went to work. As the tour wound through the house, it was clear she was familiar with the story of how the place came to be.
“There was nothing on the walls, they were striped,” she said, as the group paused in a dining room, which featured a screened overhead light. “No screen, no lights, just an empty hole in the ceiling … a lovely room.”
Marohn pointed out where restoration work had been done on the mural overlooking a performance space on the second floor, an auditorium-like chamber with balcony seating under an arched ceiling that was originally a children’s playroom. A baby grand piano jutted through a hole in the wall and out over an adjoining staircase, suspended by rope — a late addition to the room.
The Trust, which spent 13 years restoring the house, had thrown some great parties in this room, she said.
Given her early exposure to Wright, Marohn’s inclusion into the Trust that eventually brought his home back into the public eye seems somewhat fated.
Upon moving to Oak Park in 1966, Marohn, who was then a junior high school English teacher, was immediately taken by the “spectacular architecture” the village had to offer. She especially liked the Wright-designed Unity Temple; visiting the building, she said, was an “experience that can’t be matched.”
After the trust took ownership of the Home and Studio in 1974, Marohn began volunteering at the residence on the weekends, eventually becoming part of an inaugural group of tour guides.
Three weeks after the Trust began offering tours to the public, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel feature story on the house sent crowds of Wisconsinites down to see Wright’s home.
“It was amazing — we never again had that many people at one time,” she said. “For the first time, we had to be aware of the group in front of us and behind us.
Eventually, Marohn began coordinating programming for the Trust’s education committee. Later, she served on the organization’s board, all the while maintaining her Saturday afternoon tour shift.
All these years later, Marohn said the home continued to teach her of Wright’s genius.
“This house is still a wonder to me,” she said.
At the tour’s end, Marohn lead the group into an octagonal library that at one point had been converted into a gift shop by the trust.
As a final note of detail, she drew the tour’s attention to how Wright had staged the room’s paneling and windowsills in such a way that the accents rose gradually as the wall twisted, almost unnoticeably, up into the ceiling.
“A subliminal rhythm,” said Marohn. “There’s a lot going on there.”