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Urban Planning Group Honors Oak Park Historic District

Laura Gale House

The Laura Gale House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at 6 Elizabeth Ct. in Oak Park. (Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust)

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OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) - Tens of thousands of people flock to Oak Park every year to see the iconic homes designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright.

The historic district in the near west suburb that contains the homes has now won the honor of being named one of America’s 10 Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association.

The organization gave the Great Neighborhood distinction to the section of Oak Park bounded generally by Division Street on the north, Lake Street on the south, Ridgeland Avenue on the west, and Marion Street and Woodbine Avenue on the west.

“A virtual living museum of the last 150 years of architecture in the U.S., the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District contains the world’s single greatest concentration of residences designed by architects collectively known as the Prairie School,” the American Planning Association said. “The extraordinary range of architecture illustrates Oak Park’s evolution from rural village to urban suburb.”

Wright moved to Oak Park in 1889 at the age of 21, and the neighborhood contains 23 buildings he designed or remodeled. Among them are Wright’s own home and studio, which published reports say draws about 80,000 people a year, and the iconic Unity Temple.

The American Planning Association says nearly 90 percent of the 1,934 residential and commercial structures in the neighborhood contribute to its recognition as a historic district. The area was named a local historic district in 1972, and a national historic district the following year.

The district also contains the largest concentration of Prairie style structures designed by Wright and other architects anywhere – 80 in all.

Wright is not the only historical figure associated with the district. Ernest Hemingway was born in the Oak Park historic district in 1899, and it is also the site of his boyhood home.

The American Planning Association also lauds Oak Park for its use of urban planning, including being one of the first communities to pass a fair housing law, in 1968. The group also calls the Oak Park district “self contained (and) sustainable,” with diverse housing stock and ample public transportation.

Frank Lloyd Wright left Oak Park in 1911 for Spring Green, Wis., following a scandalous affair with the wife of a client. The woman ended up accompanying Wright to Wisconsin, where he opened his Taliesin home and studio.

Wright’s last home was in Phoenix, Ariz., where he died in 1959.

Also making the American Planning Association’s 10 Great Neighborhoods list were sections of Denver; Jacksonville, Fla.; Lafayette, Ind.; Frederic, Md.; Boston; Las Vegas; Cincinnati; Oklahoma City; and Sioux Falls, S.D. The “Great Places” list also included top 10 subcategories for Great Streets and Great Public Spaces, but no Chicago area locations made those lists.