The inscription on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, fitted with new bronze replicas. Photo via The Chicago Tribune.
As architect Michael Meredith once said in a preface to Log, “Most other people walk by and live in buildings, but don’t think about them — not like we [architects] do. They have other things on their minds. They only seem to care when it doesn’t work or when they stub their toe on it.” In other words, reverence for architecture occupies, at most, .00000001% of our so-called collective consciousness. This is perhaps why 56 of the 72 bronze letters were stripped from the façade of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park in September 2010 and likely sold as scrap metal for a scant $10, according to The Chicago Tribune. The recently completed restoration, meanwhile, racked up a $42,000 bill.
Judging from the 5-digit price tag alone, it’s clear that replacing the letters was no small feat: a team of architects, Wright scholars, and other specialists were called in by the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation to piece together information from archival photos and residual adhesive imprints left on the building where the original letters were once attached. The remaining 16 letters left by the vandals were removed, studied, and later stowed away in the event that vandals return to pinch the remaining vestiges of Wright’s hand-drawn inscription.
Missing letters from the original inscription. Photo via oakpark.com.
Metallurgists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art analyzed the bronze metal to find the exact alloy that Wright chose for the design. Though the original lettering has since oxidized to a brownish-green, the restoration team stayed faithful to Wright’s design and installed replicas of shiny golden bronze on Wright’s Temple. The inscription now glistens much as it did when the church was dedicated in 1909.
The restoration was officially complete in late May of this year. “We all felt a sense of joy when it was done,” said Emily Roth, executive director of the restoration foundation. “It was important to re-create [the letters] so they contained the original magic. It tells us what the purpose of the building is.” Once again, Unity Temple will remind churchgoers and onlookers that it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright “For the Worship of God And the Service of Man.”