The lot upon which Unity Temple was constructed was purchased from a prominent congregation member, Edwin O. Gale. The Gale family had deep roots in Chicago and the Oak Park area and a much stronger link with Frank Lloyd Wright than just this piece of property. In fact, this connection spanned from Wright’s earliest work in Oak Park to one of the last projects before he left for Wisconsin.
Edwin Gale was born in Massachusetts in 1832 to Abram and Sarah Gale. Abram was drafted into service in the War of 1812. After the war, he had a meat market in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston. In 1835, Abram, Sarah and young son Edwin, traveled along the Erie Canal and through the Great Lakes as they moved to Chicago. The Gales opened a market in Chicago and, in about 1840, purchased 320 acres just north of Oak Park; what is now known as the Chicago neighborhood of Galewood. Edwin attended the College of Pharmacy in Chicago and his first job was in a drug store located in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. He eventually bought the business with a partner, William Blocki. Their business was destroyed, like much of the city, in the 1871 Chicago Fire. A loan from friend Joseph Kettlestrings, the original European settler in Oak Park, helped Edwin restart his pharmacy business. Within a few years, the business expanded to eight stores, including one on Lake Street in Oak Park. Edwin also partnered with William Blocki in several real estate ventures. Gale Avenue in River Forest is part of a tract the men owned and subdivided.
Edwin built a house on the north side of Lake Street at Kenilworth Avenue. He and his wife Julia were charter members of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Oak Park. They had six sons. Son Abram married Maude Bolles, who lived across the street in a Victorian house on what is now the site of the Oak Park Post Office. Sons Thomas and Walter were friends of Wright and hired him to design houses for them on Chicago Avenue in 1892 and 1893, respectively. Thomas’ house is one of the “bootlegs” designed independently by Wright even though he was still under contract to Adler & Sullivan. Walter’s is considered to be one of Wright’s first commissions after leaving the firm. In 1897, Thomas and his wife Laura had Wright design a summer cottage for them in Whitehall, MI. After Thomas’ death in 1907, Laura hired Wright to design three small rental cottages on the same property in Whitehall, as well as a new home for herself on Elizabeth Court in Oak Park. Edwin’s son Whittier built the house directly south of Unity Temple. After Edwin died in 1913, Julia purchased the house from Whittier and presented it to the church in 1915 for use as a parsonage.
by Ken Simpson