Elgin day school to close, leaving uncertain future of campus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protege

July 14, 2011

The Fox River Country Day School, a fixture in Elgin since the 1920s, has announced it will close--placing in limbo the school's naturalistic 53-acre campus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protege John Van Bergen.

"It is a unique set of buildings [by Van Bergen], containing all the ideals of the architect including those who influenced him, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jens Jensen, etc.," said Van Bergen expert Marty Hackl, author of The Life and Work of Prairie School Architect, John Van Bergen.

School officials told the Elgin Courier-News earlier this week the institution has been staggered by shrinking enrollment and the costs of an expensive elementary school building built on the campus about six years ago. There is camp activity at the school currently, but the facility is set to shut own officially at the beginning of the school year. There are no immediate plans for the campus after it closes.

"I can't think of any viable uses except as some kind of campus, maybe an arts and nature center or academy or something like that," Hackl said. "Maybe even the possibility that the school could somehow be resurrected in a year or two if the economy changes for the better."

Van Bergen, who worked in Wright's Oak Park studio before becoming an architect in his own right, designed a campus with strong Prairie School influences: low horizontal stucco buildings and the generous use of natural stone and six-by-six clay tile insets. Also interesting: The campus was designed after the Prairie School had fallen from fashion. Construction on the administration building in the above photo began in 1929--some 16 years after Van Bergen's Allan Miller House in South Shore, and 20 years after he worked on Wright's Robie House.

Though located close to the I-90, the campus feels a world away.

Hackl stands by a fireplace in a room inside the administration building:

The school's dining hall designed by Van Bergen is another late Prairie School addition: It was built after World War II.