Frank Lloyd Wright Church Robbed of Epitaph

Last month, thieves removed the brass lettering from Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, built in Oak Park, Ill., in 1909. The Oak Park police department believes the 58 letters, which spelled out "for the worship of God and the service of man," likely were stolen for scrap.

The stolen goods, which total 14 pounds, may have been worth less than $40, according to Emily Roth, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, which is slowly stablizing the building. "The incredible gulf between what they're worth as scrap and what they're worth as artifacts is astonishing," she says. "That was a really reprehensible act."

It will cost more than that to restore the letters.

It's extremely unfortunate when the value of scrap metal is viewed as more important than the value of a National Historic Landmark," says Jim Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois. "As the holders of a preservation easement on the property, we have been researching whether there are additional penalties that can be applied—if the vandal is located—for the theft of significant landmark features."

11 most markLast year, citing the building's need for restoration, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Unity Temple one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, which is trying to raise $25 million for the building's stabilization, completed repairs on the its concrete roof slab in May. "We were all on a high from having completed that work, and we all had this feeling of disappointment that something bad had to follow," Roth says.

This week, the foundation, along with the building's owner, the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Church, plans to meet with Chicago-based Harboe Architects to decide whether to replicate or replace the epigraph.

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