The story of this house is closely connected to the construction of the Nathan Moore house immediately to the north — you should read that first if you haven't already.
Nathan Moore continued to expand his holdings with the Gray family house in March of 1900, adding another 75 feet of frontage along Forest Avenue. Click here for a chart showing the develpment of the Moore estate. This in addition to what Moore already owned gave him 200 feet of land along Forest Avenue.
- "on the south part of which stood a very good residence which we planned to remodel, in the hope that Mary who had grown up and was soon to be married, might occupy it."
If the year was 1900, Mary had just turned 17, but was "soon to be married"? Edward and Mary Hills did not marry until January 1, 1908. In fact, it took 6 years, 1906, for Nathan Moore to remodel the house on the Gray property, and another 5 or 6 years, about 1912, before the Hills moved into 313 Forest Avenue. Here is what we know of the story:
Moore again turned to Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel the Gray house. But this time it appears that Moore gave Wright free rein of expression. According to reputable sources, the drawings for the remodelling are dated 1900. Meanwhile, Nathan Moore is having a problem securing clear title to the Gray property; it appears that this may not have been cleared up until March of 1903. Then an opportunity arose: Moore buys the next lot to the south of the Grays, owned by Mr. & Mrs. D.L. McDaniels. This sale was not completed until May, 1905.
Nathan Moore now owns 250 feet of land from Superior Street south. This now allows Moore to demolish the McDaniel house and move the Gray house further south to allow his English-timbered mansion a large expanse of lawn for a formal garden and paintings. There are indicatons that this garden was created in 1905 and consisted of a pergola from the Moore mansion to the south lot line, a goldfish pond and a sunken garden. It appears that Moore has gained an acceptance of Wright's architectural style and now allows Frank to remodel the existing Gray house and link it back to his period style mansion.
Nathan Moore applied for a building permit in May of 1906 and construction began. Wright assigned one of his studio employees, Barry Byrne, to carry out the alteration of the Gray house. The 6 year old drawings were pulled out of a drawer, dusted off, and Wright's somewhat dated design, compared to his work of 1906, was underway.
The Hills house has some of the usual Prairie features but Wright is still developing the style in 1900. Like other designs of this period, Wright has a Japanese theme in his roof design, with a steep pitched roof with flared eaves. But here, Wright adds a new twist with a furring strip under each fifth shingle on the roof which adds an accenting horizontal line when viewed from the ground. The exterior of the house consists of stucco walls with wood trim, and a wood shingle roof. Wright adds his own touches of the Prairie — horizontal wood banding at the window sills and elimination of the vertical line of a downspout by providing for a drainage hole at the corners of the roof gutters. Similar to the sytem provided in the Heurtley house across the street. The entry porch hints at where the front door is, but shelters it to such an extent that it is a discovery when found around the north side of the building. Inside the floor plan is altered from a Victorian parlor scheme into a "left-handed pinwheel" design, providing the open and flowing spaces of the Prairie style.
There is some confusion regarding the date the Hills family actually moved into the house at 313 Forest. The alteration was completed in late 1906 or early 1907 but the Hills did not move into the house, indeed they weren't even married yet. Instead it was rented to Mr. & Mrs. John Berry from 1907 to 1910 and Mr. & Mrs. Robert Carr from 1909 to 1912. According to Nathan Moore:
"Mary was married to Edward R. Hills on January 1, 1908, and lived for several years in a house we had purchased, nearly opposite our residence, and in 1910 she moved into the remodeled residence adjoining us."
After the Hills were married, they lived at 335 Superior, in a house owned by Nathan Moore (click here for a picture). It is on the north side of the street on a diagonal northwest of Moore's house. County records indicate that the Moore's transferred the property to Mary M. Hills on December 23, 1910. Directories published at the time list the Hills living at 335 Superior and the Carrs living at 313 Forest in 1911. In 1912 the Carrs disappear from the directory, and the Hills reside at 313 Forest. From this it appears most likely that the Hills moved into 313 Forest sometime in 1911.
Mary Moore Hills didn't particularly like the house and was apparently a reluctant recipient of her father's "gift". According to her son Nathan Grier Hills:
"I am reluctant to say mother didn't appreciate the architecture of Mr. Wright. It was too stern and austere. She insisted before occupying the gift of the house that some changes be made."
And to Wright's architecture in general...
"My parents idea on the Wright houses was that some of them were pleasing, many of them were queer, and all of them were inconvenient and needed alteration."
Architect Henry Fiddelke (who also lived on Superior just half a block away, click here for a picture of his house) was hired to design some interior alterations: dividing the large master bedroom to add an additional bedroom; adding bathrooms; remodeling the kitchen; enclosing the rear porch to make a sleeping porch; and excavating under the back porch to create a children's playroom. These change were done gradually, over a period of at least 8 years.
The Hills familty continued to live in the house and raise their family. In 1946 Nathan Moore died and the property passed to the Hills family. At the time of his death, Moore's property extended 190 feet along Forest Avenue. The Hills owned the balance of Moore's original 250 feet, or 60 feet; the Hills north property line was up against the side of their house. In 1947 the Hills sold the Nathan Moore property to Milton and Mary Summerville, and to retain some breathing room they retained 40 feet of the Moore property.
Edward Hills died in 1953, Mary continued to live there until 1965, when she sold the house to Edward Ross. Mary rented an apartment in Oak Park until her death in 1972.
After falling into considerable disrepair, in 1976 the house was purchased by the DeCaros, who set out to restore it to its original appearance. During the restoration a fire broke out and the home above the first floor was mostly destroyed. The DeCaros then rebuilt the house according to the original plans, even adding the interior oak trim that had been designed but omitted during the original execution.
New owners purchased the house in 2001 and have restored the exterior of the house and renovated the interior finishes to what they think Wright could have done in 1906.
They have gutted the basement area and lowered the existing basement floor to gain more ceiling height. They have exposed the original stone foundations as the new finished walls, refinishing the original playroom area and billiard room as well as adding a toilet room and private office area.
The exterior of the house was repainted based on a color scheme that is thought to be original. The exterior colors were researched by finding original samples of the exterior stucco on and about the building. It was determined that the stucco was originally two colors, off-white on the lower stucco walls and a gray color on the upper areas of the building. The wood trim was a dark "creosote" brown and the roof was gray weathered wood shingles.
In 2009, the Hills homeowners recreated a portion of the pergola on their property. See here for some additional information on this reconstruction. See here for additional information on the Columbian Exposition ticket booth.
Research for this house © Jack Lesniak, 2010. Do not reproduce without permission.
Click for larger view.