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  • Emilene Leone

The Cherry House, by Rudolph Sandberg---Art Moderne Architecture in Rock Island, Illinois

Every day, I dream about moving to Rock Island, Illinois.


I take that back. What I actually dream about is moving to Italy, but that won't be a possibility for several years. For the time being, my family and I are pretty locked into staying put where we are. We live in the Quad Cities, which is an area comprising several cities on the Iowa/Illinois border.


I grew up in Davenport, on the Iowa side, and my husband grew up in Rock Island, on the Illinois side. His ancestors immigrated from Sicily to Rock Island in 1912 for reasons unknown to us now, but they were the first of several generations of proud Rock Islanders. When I married my husband, our first two homes were in Rock Island, and we absolutely loved living there.


His job took us out of the area for a few years and when we came back, we landed on the Iowa side of the river, because our oldest son is special-needs and we had always heard that special education programs in Iowa were better than in Illinois. I don't know if that's actually true or not, but we believed it, so we bought a house on the Iowa side in 2015.


And ever since, I've been waiting for the day when the kids would graduate from high school and we could hop back over the river to Rock Island.


Rock Island has a vibe.


As soon as I cross the bridge into Rock Island, I feel like I'm home, even though I wasn't raised there. There's just something about Rock Island, you can feel it in the air. There's an absolute utter lack of any sort of pretentiousness. Rock Island was the major city of the Quad Cities a century or so ago, but has long since been outnumbered by the other cities population-wise. There aren't a lot of new businesses coming into Rock Island, or people building new homes. Many citizens of the other Quad Cities rarely find reason to come to Rock Island on a regular basis, and because of that, one would think that the people of Rock Island might perhaps have some sort of inferiority complex but it's quite the opposite. Rock Island has a special sort of vibrancy, a sort of a "F-you" attitude to it that I find hard to put into words. Rock Island instills a powerful sort of feeling of hometown pride and loyalty you just don't see among the other Quad Cities. I love it.


For that reason, I look forward to returning to Rock Island and making it my home again. There's also another reason:


The architecture.


In my opinion, Rock Island is home to the most interesting, beautiful, fascinating and incredible architecture in the entire Quad Cities and surrounding area.


There are many Victorian neighborhoods, full of beautiful old homes where people have put their blood, sweat and tears into restoring. Rock Island is the home to the Hauberg Estate , an incredible Prairie-style mansion boasting gardens designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's friend and colleague Jens Jensen, who also helped design the gardens at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin I got married at the Hauberg Estate and was told a legend that the owner wanted Frank Lloyd Wright to design her home, but her father, who was paying for it, refused to give business to the "scoundrel". Craftsman style homes can be found throughout Rock Island.


But for me, the draw is the modernistic architecture.


Rock Island has little pockets that contain the most fascinating modernistic architecture. Several years back, the city of Rock Island put out a document describing the history of some of the most interesting pieces of modernistic architecture in Rock Island.


I found out about this document when I went to an open house for a home that is on the market currently, the Cherry House, designed by local architect Rudolph Sandberg in 1941, located at 1235 42nd Avenue in Rock Island. It's probably a little early to buy our next home, as the kids have a couple of years of school to go, but a girl can dream.


While I think the house and yard is larger than I'd personally like as we move into our empty nest years, I did find it to be beautiful, I asked the agent if I could come and take some photos of it.




Currently vinyl siding, according to the document, the exterior walls were originally "concrete block exterior walls accentuated in decorative patterns". It makes me wonder if the original design might have looked something a bit like the walls of Frank Lloyd Wright's McCartney House in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which I photographed last fall.



Walking around the house, I kept hoping to see a bit of loose vinyl siding that I could peek under, but no suck luck!


I took a few aerial shots with my drone to show off the beautiful setting:





In looking at the front facade, it seemed strange to me that it was so boxy, it looked like it was missing something. In learning about the house, I learned that the area directly above the garage was originally a deck, but a bedroom was added there instead, giving it that boxy appearance that would not be original to the home's intended design.



While inside the house, I saw a drawing of the 1975 addition, when the room and siding were added. The drawing included windows in that area , which I think would absolutely give the home a more attractive look:

I wonder if the window are hidden under the current siding? So many mysteries!


I didn't have very long to photograph the interiors, and much of it has been changed throughout the decades to suit today's needs and preferences but some of the original Art Moderne glam, curves, and Art Deco influences remain intact.





I loved the glass block windows, one example seen here, looking from a side courtyard into the backyard




As a gardener, I could see that the backyard gardens had once been extremely well planned and loved, sort of Asian inspired with lots of ferns and hostas and trees. The agent remarked that it was interesting that I was the only one at the open house who chose to walk around the grounds, but to me, the landscape is just as important as the house, a lesson I've learned from Frank Lloyd Wright. I know my gardening style well, and while I can admire a well-tended shade garden, it's not a project I personally would enjoy caring for. My eye was walking around, thinking which trees I'd have removed to create a sunny prairie-style garden and that's when I realized this wasn't a home I should live in. If I have a yard, I need it to be a sunny yard, where my wildflowers can happily bloom. I've tried shade gardening, and it's just not my thing personally. The garden could be restored by the right gardener beautifully into the woodland paradise it was meant to be, and not forced into being a little spot of prairie deep within the timber of Rock Island.


You can see from this drone shot that trying to carve out a bit of prairie in this wooded backyard would be quite the battle to keep the shade and woodland plants at bay!



All in all, it was an absolutely lovely home, and will be perfect for someone, just not me. My dream is to find a time capsule of a home, unupdated and original. Touches of the original design just aren't enough for me, and having lived in post 1975 homes for the last 15 years or so, I don't want to live in a home that feels like new, which in many ways, this house did. Great for some buyers, not for me, and while it could be restored to the original design, it would take a lot of time, money and energy that I'm not sure I would want to spend on the project. It would almost feel wasteful to scrap some of the lovely updates and preferences of previous homeowners---a gourmet kitchen, for example, just for the sake of returning it to its 1941 original design. I personally don't want a mix of old and new. I just want the old.


So I said my goodbyes to this home and wish it well in finding its next family. I'm glad I got the chance to see it and photograph it. It really will be a dream home for someone, I'm sure of it.




I am also glad I went, so I could find out about the document talking about Rock Island's Modernistic Architecture. I plan to use it as a guide for my own personal project to document some of these homes. I wish I could photograph Frank Lloyd Wright houses every week, but since that's not a possibility, I will work on this little project to keep myself entertained, and I will share the results with you!

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