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Carolyn Howlett, Coonley Coach House Owner, Dies

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Greg Brewer

Joined: 08 Feb 2005
Posts: 18
Location: Chicago

PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2005 7:13 pm    Post subject: Carolyn Howlett, Coonley Coach House Owner, Dies Reply with quote

Woman at heart of roof clash dies

Artist lives out last days in Wright home

By Crystal Yednak

Tribune staff reporter

December 23, 2005

In the 1950s, Carolyn Howlett saved part of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estate from demolition. She wished to spend the rest of her days in her home on that Riverside estate.

But earlier this year, a crumbling roof forced bystanders into the difficult role of balancing the 91-year-old widow's love for the Wright residence with her own financial realities.

In the end, Howlett was able to stay in her home, where she died Saturday. She had Alzheimer's disease for several years, according to the Cook County public guardian's office.

"The good thing was that people were able to come together to allow her to remain in her home and die in her home. That's what she wanted," said Public Guardian Robert Harris. "That, to me, is remarkable in itself."

As Howlett's legal guardian, Harris' office had determined that the leaky roof needed to be fixed. But estimates to repair the clay-tile roof in an authentic way ranged from $50,000 to $250,000, and the office worried that the costs could force her into a nursing home.

Instead, the public guardian proposed a $14,000 asphalt replacement for the roof, upsetting preservationists, who scrambled to find a better solution to save the Wright design elements. The home is part of the Avery Coonley estate designed by Wright.

In September, a neighbor, Dean Eastman, stepped in to buy the house so the roof could be repaired in a historically accurate way. He also signed a life estate agreement so Howlett could live in the home as long as her health allowed.

Eastman and his wife, Ella Mae, live in a wing of the main house on the estate and have earned a conservation p award for work on their own home.

"It would have been terrible to see [the Wright house] with an asphalt roof or to be destroyed by somebody," she said. "We were happy that Carolyn got her wish that she could live there in her home as long as she wished."

Friends and acquaintances describe Howlett as "strong-willed."

"Nothing would sway her," said friend David Knoebber.

That was evident in the 1950s when she intervened to preserve buildings on the Coonley estate after hearing of a developer's plans to raze all except the main building. She rallied support, even contacting Frank Lloyd Wright himself, Knoebber said.

Howlett and her husband, James, bought a complex of buildings on the estate that included a carriage house, a chicken coop and a powerhouse for the property. They turned the buildings into a home, filling it with their art. James Howlett worked as a photographer and sketch artist, while Carolyn Howlett painted watercolors, and made collages and assemblage, friends said.

She believed every child should receive an education in the arts and that led her to take an active role in local, state and national arts education associations when she was teaching in Oak Park and Libertyville and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Knoebber said.

"She demanded things, but you learned a great deal from her," said Knoebber who traded errands for art lessons when he was a child in Galena and the Howletts visited to paint and shoot photos.

Howlett retired in 1970, and she and her husband traveled the world.

"She was an absolutely wonderful conversationalist," said neighbor Ted Smith. "You could sit and listen to Carolyn talk for a long time."

Friends are planning a memorial service, but details have not been completed. Memorials can be made to the Illinois Art Education Association.


Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune
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