As a preservation architect who was raised in Oak Park, it is impossible NOT to have memories of Unity Temple. So, I’ll share a “two for one” memory. In the early years of practice as a young architect (c.1990) I was working with a New York firm that undertook some consultation regarding the large overhanging eaves over the Temple. I was tasked with searching the UTRF archives for information about the original construction. There, I found correspondence that indicated that a young Barry Byrne (later, a noted Prairie School architect) served as project manager during the construction.
Byrne married my grandmother’s sister, Annette Cremin, about ten years later. My aunt, herself an accomplished artist, was still living at the time, and I asked her about Barry’s work at Unity Temple. She grew up in nearby Austin, and told me that at that time she was a little girl, taking piano lessons in a nearby building (I assume in one of the upper floors of the Masonic Block — the former Gilmore’s department store on the southwest corner of Lake and Oak Park) where she could see the construction from an upper window. Annette reminisced, “and to think, my future husband was right down there on the construction site!”
Primarily a portrait painter, Mrs. Byrne also worked in other genres such as children’s books, murals and church interiors in collaboration with her husband, architect Barry Byrne.
By Anne T. Sullivan, FAIA – principal of Sullivan Preservation, focusing on restoration with an emphasis on building conditions assessment, material conservation and documentation. Sullivan is the Chair of Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently the Director of the Master of Science degree program in Historic Preservation. Sullivan also serves on the board of directors for UTRF.