Penwern – Wright’s Porch Design is Built

Text and photos (c) 2015 Mark Hertzberg, unless noted.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed semi-circular outer porch walls for Penwern, the Fred B. Jones House on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903), but the walls were either built straight or modified from his plans early in the life of the house. Jones is shown near the straight east porch wall in an undated photograph. The house was completed in 1901; he died in 1933.

FBJ @ Penwern 1

The east and west (side) porches now have semi-circular outer walls, as indicated on Wright’s drawings for the house. (The drawings can be viewed on Penwern’s magnificent website, www.penwern.com ) Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994, commissioned master builder Bill Orkild to rebuild the side porches to Wright’s plan this spring. The work was completed just a week ago. The outer wall of the front porch, facing the lake, was changed from straight to semi-circular by John O’Shea, the fourth owner of the house, between 1989 and 1994. The front porch is on the right side of the first photo below:

Penwern Porches

The semi-circular design brings a unified design element back to the house because it echoes the dramatic arch over the front porch and the arched porte-cochere.

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Orkild photographed the east porch during reconstruction:

porch wall 015

He also fashioned the diamond-shape accents shown on Wright’s drawings. Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

The next question for the Majors to ponder with Orkild is whether the walls on the insides of the porch are load-bearing. The walls are not shown on Wright’s plans. Removing them would allow for more dramatic vistas to the east and west from the front porch. It is possible that the porches were screened in with these walls after Jones lived in the house to shelter himself and his visitors from mosquitoes.

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Celebrating Wright’s Birthday

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 148th birthday was celebrated at a traditional gathering at Taliesin Saturday June 6 and a day later at SC Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin. Wright designed the company’s Administration Building in 1936 and Research Tower in 1943/44.

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark HertzbergSean Malone chats with Minerva Montooth during the reception at Taliesin.

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Ron McCrea enjoys playing the living room piano when he visits Taliesin.

The reception at Taliesin was followed by dinner – including a birthday cake – and music at Hillside School:

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin and Hillside School, Spring Green, Wis., Saturday June 6, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Prairie 50th Graduation

SC Johnson’s celebration was held in Fortaleza Hall, designed by Lord Norman Foster and partners. There were two sheet cakes and a large cake modeled after Wright’s buildings. The base below the model building was made from compressed Rice Krispie treats and chocolate mix.

Children played with Lincoln Logs, a toy invented by John Lloyd Wright

Bob and Jeanne Maushammer wanted their picture taken with a life-size cutout photo of Wright. The Maushammers, who have seen several hundred of Wright’s buildings, were in their hometown of Racine to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Newly Discovered Wright Home Near Milwaukee

Story and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

The 2100 block of Newton Avenue in Shorewood, Wis., will no longer be a quiet street, as word spreads of the documentation there of a previously unidentified house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The home at 2106 Newton may not look like a Wright home at first glance, but underneath the modern siding, and above the garage which was added in 1976, is one of Wright’s stucco American System-Built homes.

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Many people think Wright designed homes only for wealthy clients, but he was keenly interested in affordable housing for the middle class. The American System-Built homes, designed as affordable housing, could be selected from a myriad of designs. The entrance to the house is on the right side (as one faces the house). The original open porch at the entrance was enclosed at an unknown date. It still has the original stucco finish and the leaded glass windows which apparently were the front windows of the house.

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The Newton Avenue house, built in 1917, joins six homes in the 2700 block of W. Burnham St. (two single-family homes and four duplexes) as examples of Wright’s American System-Built homes in the Milwaukee area. The two-bedroom Shorewood house is a Model A203. Four other Milwaukee American System-Built duplexes, the Arthur R. Munkwitz Duplex Apartments, were demolished in 1973 to widen a street.

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

The first person to tell owners Roger and Pat Wisialowski that they may be living in a Wright home was the late Richard Johnson of Evanston, Illinois. Johnson had a passion for searching for previously unknown Wright works. However, none of the ones he believed Wright designed were documented and authenticated as Wright’s, until Mike Lilek researched the little house on Newton Avenue over the last year and found proof that it is, indeed, a Wright home. Lilek is nationally recognized as an expert on the subject of Wright’s American System-Built homes.

The documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the home at 2106 Newton Avenue, Shorewood, Wis., was announced Friday June 5, 2015. The home, which dates to 1917, is one of Wright's American System-Built homes. It has   /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Lilek, left, is interviewed by Jeff Rummage of the “Shorewood Now news site.

He has spearheaded the restoration of two of the Burnham Street houses for Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin. He extensively researched the Newton Avenue house and has presented his findings to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the organization which oversees all things Wright and was the former home of Wright’s archive. He announced his findings June 5, 2015 at a press event in front of the house. He has been transparent about his research, and has posted a link to it:

www.wrightinwisconsin.org

Link toMary Louise Schumacher’s feature story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/sleuthing-reveals-shorewood-home-was-

designed-by-frank-lloyd-wright-b99513440z1-306231261.html

Tafels’ Albert House Inches Along to Completion; Court Imposes Fine

Photos and story (c) Mark Hertzberg

Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

A $25 per day fine levied by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Faye Flancher on May 8 against the owners of Edgar Tafel’s Carl and Marie Albert House (1948) in Wind Point, Wisconsin, may spur them to quickly complete restoration of the house, thereby ending a legal battle that is more than three years old. The exterior of the house, above, is largely repaired, but not enough interior work has been done to allow the village to issue an occupancy permit.

The house was deemed uninhabitable in December, 2011.

The house was deemed uninhabitable in December, 2011.

The house, at 4945 N. Main Street, is on a prominent intersection in the wealthy suburb of Racine. Its location at the corner of N. Main Street and Four Mile Road has likely spurred greater concern on the part of the village than if it were in a less visible location.

Court hearing for Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Village attorney Ed Bruner, left, and Peter Ludwig, the Schulz’s attorney, confer before the hearing.

The house fell into disrepair after Joan Shulz, who bought it in 1972 with her late husband, Dr. Gilbert Schulz, walked away from it more than seven years ago to care for an ill relative. The roof leaked and interior walls were covered with mold. A tarp covered the roof for a long time.

June 30, 2012: A tarp covers the roof and the front of the house is overgrown.

June 30, 2012: A tarp covers the roof and the front of the house is overgrown.

Court hearing for Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Linden Schulz leans forward to confer with Ludwig while Joan Schulz, right, listens to Bruner’s arguments on behalf of the village.

The house was deemed uninhabitable, and village sought a raze order in 2013. While the house was architecturally significant — Tafel was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices from 1932-1941 — the village considered it an “eyesore,” according to Todd Terry, the Schulz’s former attorney.

Bruner confers with village board member Karen Van Lone. Her husband, Richard Britton, is with her.

Bruner confers with village board member Karen Van Lone. Her husband, Richard Britton, is with her.

Mrs. Schulz paid $11,200 in ordinance fines in November, 2012 rather than demolish the house. The village had run out of patience in early 2013 according to its attorney, Ed Bruner, “There’s been a determination made by the building inspector that the cost to repair the house far exceeds 50% of its value, so that’s the problem.”

The Schulzes confer with attorney Ludwig after the hearing.

The Schulzes confer with attorney Ludwig after the hearing.

The house is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Recognizing its architectural significance, Judge John Jude, who originally heard the case, gave Schulz and her son Linden, who was going to do most of the restoration work, consideration rather than order the house razed. Although Schulz missed several court-imposed deadlines, he slowly made enough progress to get extensions from Jude.

Village Administrator Michael Hawes, Bruner, Van Lone, and Britton leave the courthouse after the hearing.

Village Administrator Michael Hawes, Bruner, Van Lone, and Britton leave the courthouse after the hearing.

The Schulz family was told in February that fines might be imposed at the May 8 hearing if there was no occupancy permit by then. While acknowledging that progress has been made, the house is unfinished inside, and Flancher granted the village’s request for fines to push the work to completion.

“This has gone on way too long,” argued Ed Bruner, the village attorney. Referring to the first court hearing in May, 2013, he added, “Several new homes could have been built (in the time it has taken to repair the Albert House).”

Michael Hawes, the village administrator, acknowledges “What’s going on now is better than where we were,” with respect to the condition of the house, but says the village wants the property to be able to pass inspection and have an occupancy permit issued. “It’s not just that it’s a matter of it being part of the community as an occupied home with people living there and people caring for the property, but also so this doesn’t happen again in the future.” The village also wants to be able to assess the house as a habitable property.

The Schulz’s attorney, Peter Ludwig, blamed an electrical contractor for the latest delay, asserting that he is three weeks late returning to the job. Final drywalling, insulation, flooring, and plumbing work will quickly follow, he said, then “it could be a matter of days.”

Remembering Jim Yoghourtjian

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Jim Yoghourtjian, steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House with his wife, Margaret, from 1968 – 2012 died April 26. He was 91.

Margaret and Jim Yoghourtjian in their living room in the Hardy house, 1319 S. Main St., Wednesday September 1, 2004.  (c) Mark Hertzberg

He was a well known classical guitarist, who traveled to Siena, Italy, to study with Andres Segovia. His friends knew him for his devotion to Margaret, for his warmth, for his apple pies, as well as for his music.

Jim’s father did not understand how he could make a living as a musician and urged him to take a shop job in the factory where he worked. In 1957, though, his father went to Chicago to hear Jim play in the Fullerton Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago in conjunction with an exhibition honoring Pablo Picasso. After listening to the applause at the end of the concert, his father asked the person next to him if everyone there had come to hear the music. Assured that they had, he proudly said, “That’s my son!” Jim wrote in a 1996 memoir.

Jim had a wry sense of humor. Jim and Margaret had welcomed visitors to the house for many years until after some negative experiences. The house then understandably became strictly their home, not a Wright tourist destination. He chuckled when he told me how he then deflected Wright-related questions from strangers who pestered him when he was doing yard work, “I don’t know, I’m just the caretaker.”

I remember seeing him outside the house soon after moving to Racine in 1978, quickly pulling over to the curb, and asking if I could see the inside of his Frank Lloyd Wright house. He declined to let me invade their privacy. I never faulted him for that, wondering how often that happened to him.

There are certainly Wright aficionados who would criticize Jim for playing the role of ignorant caretaker of the house. Those of us lucky to have counted him as a friend would instead smile and think, “Yup, that’s Jim for you!” Rather than dwell on the question of whether or not he should have answered every Wright question, I prefer to dwell on the memory of seeing him tenderly kiss Margaret’s hand one day before going back to bed when they shared a room during a short hospital stay in 2011. He had told me that he used to write her poems for her birthday. That was Jim. And that is part of what made him such a special person.

New Wright exhibition at SC Johnson opens

Photos by Mark Hertzberg (c) for SC Johnson

SCJ Wasmuth

Wright’s 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio is the theme of the fourth annual exhibition in the “At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright” gallery in Fortaleza Hall on the SC Johnson campus in Racine, Wis. Fifty lithographs from the portfolio and artifacts from the Dana House and the Heath House, among others, are exhibited:

SCJ Wasmuth SCJ Wasmuth

SCJ Wasmuth

Weekend tours now also include H.F. Johnson Jr.’s office in the Wright-designed Administration Building (1936). The office has been refurbished with period furniture and company artifacts for the tours. Johnson commissioned Wright to designed the Administration Building, the SC Johnson Research Tower (1943/44), Wingspread (his home, 1937), the unrealized Racine YWCA (1949/50), an unrealized remodeling at the Racine Airport (1941), and several unrealized buildings at Wingspread.

HF Office

HF Office

HF Office

Wright – and others close to Johnson – called him “Hib”.

SCJ Wasmuth

For information and required tour reservations go to: www.scjohnson.com/visit

Work Begins Anew at Hardy House

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

The Hardy House is a construction zone again after a two-year respite.

Lake Side Restoration

The east side of the house is sheathed in scaffolding, and scaffolding again fills the two-story living room as it did several years ago while plaster was repaired and the house was repainted.

Lake Side Restoration

Lake Side Restoration

     The living room and the dining room are walled-off in construction workers’ heavy plastic, diminishing the view of Lake Michigan from the living room balcony:

Lake Side Restoration

     The living room and dining room windows are being replaced, which may sound routine, but the work also entails rebuilding structural elements of the house above and below the windows. It will not be known how much needs to be rebuilt until workers begin the reconstruction. The center dining room windows lead to the dining room terrace, whose rubber membrane flooring (shown in a 2002 photo, below) needs to be replaced, as well.

LR Terrace, fall, 2

     The four square panels between the living room windows (above the panels) and the dining room windows (below the panels) were originally stucco, as shown in this 1906 photo taken as the house neared completion:

LR Terrace 0506.0004 final

(Photo courtesy of, and (c) Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

     It is believed that the stucco had cracked because the dining room windows leaked, and the panels were replaced by wood panels when Wright’s leaded glass living room windows were replaced with plate glass windows in 1947, concurrent with the rebuilding of the dining room terrace to create for a recreation room below.

     The dining room now serves as a construction office for the workers from Bane & Nelson contractors:

Lake Side Restoration

     It is impossible to estimate how long the work will take, but Bane & Nelson has a deadline of finishing in time for tours during the 2015 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy meeting in Milwaukee and Racine in early October.

SCJ Research Tower: Imitation is Flattery

(c) Mark Hertzberg If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery (Charles Caleb Colton, 1820), then Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower has many admirers. The latest incarnation of the Tower is a Lego model built by Chris Eyerly of Kenosha. It is displayed in Fortaleza Hall on the company campus.

Lego Research Tower

The first spin-off of the Tower was a desk lighter commissioned by H.F. Johnson Jr. in 1946, the year before construction began, to mark the company’s 50th anniversary. Famed industrial design Brooks Stevens delighted in “literally knocking the great Wright down to size” when he designed the lighter, according to Glenn Adamson, who profiled Stevens in 2003 for an exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Tower Lighter

LR Tower Lighter 052

It was followed sometime after 1960 by a Christmas candle. While the lighters are collectors’ items today, fetching prices up to $700 on sites like eBay, the candle was not as successful, according to the late Serge Logan, who worked in community relations for the company. People liked the “gorgeous smell,” Logan recalled, “I think we got them in Maine somewhere because of the smell of the pines.” But the company that made the candles did not pack them well enough, and many cracked during shipping.

LR Tower Candle 012

There was also a golden charm of the Tower offered for sale to employees in 1971 for $5. It was made by Tiffany & Company. It was packaged in a blue leatherette jewelry case with the Tiffany trademark.

Tower Tiffany Pin

Eyerly, 39, is an IT security engineer who enjoys challenging himself by designing Lego models. He incorporates his admiration of Wright’s work into his hobby. The Tower is his second Wright Lego creation. Six years ago he used 15,000 of the plastic building bricks to make a four-foot wide model of the Frederick Robie House in Chicago.

Lego Research Tower

He uses practical considerations in deciding what to build, “If certain Lego pieces fit the shape of the building, that’s a key that’s something I can build. The round corners (of the Tower) were just the right shape. Realizing I could accomplish that was the impetus I could build that building.”

Lego Research Tower

SC Johnson gave him PDF copies of some of the original drawings for the building. Eighty hours later, over some two and a half months in the summer of 2012, up to 6,000 Lego blocks in eight colors had been transformed into an almost three-foot tall model of Wright’s landmark Tower.

Lego Research Tower

Eyerly planned one floor of the Tower model in a computer Lego CAD program to help him estimate how many pieces he would need. “I don’t do a ton in CAD. It’s mostly a free build, just snapping pieces together. I do a lot of math ahead of time. That’s why I like scale drawings, so I know how many studs (the round knob atop each brick) it needs to be.”

Lego Research Tower

His models don’t come together easily. He had to rebuild the Robie House four times, the Tower twice. “You get to a certain point and realize something won’t work and you take it apart and retry.”

Lego Research Tower

The company learned about the Tower model after Eyerly showed it at the Brick World Lego convention in Wheeling, Illinois, and invited him to display it at their headquarters. Eyerly enjoys peoples’ reactions to his models because they evoke emotional responses, he says. “Wright’s architecture is interesting. It often draws out memories from people. Often you get emotions or feelings from people. It often ties in personally for people, which makes it interesting for me to hear the stories.” That is even more the case with the Tower model because he knows many people who work at SC Johnson. His next model will be Wright’s Bernard Schwartz House (1939) in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Ironically, construction was supervised by Edgar Tafel, one of Wright’s original Taliesin Fellowship the apprentices. Tafel had already supervised construction of the SC Johnson Administration Building and Wingspread, as well as part of Fallingwater.

Celebrating Charles Montooth

(c) Mark Hertzberg, photographs with permission of the Montooth family

Montooth Celebration

The sky was overcast when Charles Montooth was buried at Unity Chapel, across Highway 23 from Taliesin, Saturday January 3, but the mood was anything but dour. Family and friends had gathered to celebrate his life more than to mourn. Charles was buried in a simple pine coffin near where Frank Lloyd Wright was buried in 1959. Eugene Masselink and John (Jack) Howe are buried nearby, as well.

Montooth Celebration

Jaimie Kimber, who worked with Charles, arranged poinsettias on the coffin.

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

The burial service was followed by a two-hour gathering in Mr. Wright’s studio at Taliesin. More than a half dozen relatives and friends shared memories of Charles as Minerva listened.

Montooth Celebration

The first to speak was Andrew Montooth, Charles and Minerva’s son:

Montooth Celebration

Linda Marquardt and Caroline Hamblen played the cello and violin, respectively:

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

Montooth CelebrationMontooth CelebrationMontooth Celebration

Jonathan Lipman, left, chats with Jack Holzhueter:

Montooth Celebration

Lipman was one of the first students at Montooth’s Prairie School in Wind Point (Racine). He shared these thoughts in a note to Minerva and Saturday at Taliesin:

Charles meant a great deal to me dating to the autumn of 1965. Charles, of course, had been hired by Sam Johnson to design a new prep school in Racine. If my memory is right Charles was given 90 days to design the school, get its permits, and get it built and furnished before the first day of classes in early September. Sam declared that if Charles pulled that off he would eat his hat. And so, at the opening ceremony, in the completed building, a large hat was wheeled out and presented to Sam to eat. Fortunately, it was made of cake, and after taking a bite Sam shared it with everyone.

I started at the Prairie School that first semester and graduated from it (in 1971). I can testify that Charles’ achievement in speed was not his greatest achievement in designing Prairie. Each morning, as we came around the corner of Three Mile Road to Lighthouse Drive and I saw the building, my heart soared. It’s an unusual emotion in a sometimes surly adolescent but I identified it at the time. Charles, under conditions of the greatest of speed, created great poetry, an environment that nourished learning, and that stirred this heart. 

Knowing of my desire to become an architect, when I was 13, headmaster Jack Mitchell permitted me to interview Charles for the school paper. I was nervous and unsure; Charles was simple and straight, and he treated me as an equal. I remember asking him what “Taliesin” meant, and he kindly told me. It probably wasn’t much of an article but perhaps it set me on a course of writing about Wright’s work… And this was a course in my life that was hugely nourishing.

We stayed in touch, and in the 90’s he was asked to propose to design a new community at the Amana Colonies. He asked me to joint venture with him, and that meant a great deal.

We last visited when I had an architectural intern; we drove to Taliesin so I could show him this magical place, and Charles kindly received us and spent an hour catching up. I have no doubt that the experience imprinted on my intern, who now has a successful career himself.

The Prairie School was decisive in my decision to become an architect; it showed me the power of architecture to move souls and improve the world. This is an inspiration that I will carry always.

 I have been commissioned to photograph The Prairie School this year for a book celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. My assignment specifically includes a charge to highlight Charles’ architecture (see the preceding article). The story of Sam Johnson eating his hat after Charles met the seemingly impossible construction deadline is such a part of the school’s history that I end this article with a photo I took for the Racine Journal Times of Sam eating a hat cake in 1985 at a ceremony marking the school’s 20th anniversary:

Johnson

Charles Montooth, 94

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Montooth

Architect Charles Montooth, an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright and a longtime member of the Taliesin Associated Architects, died December 31 in Spring Green. He was 94.

I got to know Charles and Minerva Montooth when researching my book Wright in Racine in 2003. I profiled him a year later when he was designing yet another addition to The Prairie School in Wind Point, near Racine. He had designed the original semi-circular school building in 1964 and its subsequent additions. The last addition he worked on, an expansion of the HF Johnson Athletic Center, was designed with Floyd Hamblen. The photo above was taken as he arrived for a meeting Thursday October 16, 2003 at the school to discuss plans for the addition.

Charles and Minerva graciously invited Cindy and me to join in dinners at Taliesin every year. I photographed Charles in September 2004 on the birdwalk during the reception before we went to Hillside School for dinner:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The photos below were taken when Charles was honored in September, 2005, when the addition to the field house opened. The photos are followed by a feature story I wrote for The Journal Times newspaper, where I worked at the time:

Johnson Athletic Center

The buildings at center and right comprise the addition to the original field house building.

Johnson Athletic Center

Minerva and Charles Montooth await the start of the dedication ceremony.

Johnson Athletic Center

Charles is greeted by Sandy Freres, the school’s longtime athletic director.

Johnson Athletic Center

Charles and Imogene (Gene) Johnson, one of the founders of the school.

Prairie School aerial mh 001.jpg

The campus is shown in an aerial photo from 2009. The original school building was a semi-circular portion of the circular building at lower left.

Johnson Athletic Center

Charles acknowledges applause during the dedication ceremony in 2005.

March 06, 2004 •  By Mark Hertzberg – The Journal Times

WIND POINT – The sister of the Shah of Iran, Shams Pahlavi, was just going to have to wait to have her Pearl Palace built because architect Charles Montooth of Taliesin Associated Architects in Spring Green had a more urgent commission in Racine.

“Proceed with the Johnsons, never mind the Princess,” were Montooth’s ironclad instructions from Olgivanna Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow and president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which oversaw the architecture firm.

Willy Hilpert and Imogene “Gene” Johnson had started thinking about opening a private school in Racine in 1963. They sensed a need for a college preparatory school that emphasized small class sizes, individual attention, and that offered foreign language instruction to elementary school students. The idea spread quickly after presentations at Wingspread the next spring.

Montooth, 83, who designed the original school building in 1965 and all 10 subsequent additions to the school, is now the design architect for a 25,000-square-foot addition to the north side of the H.F. Johnson Athletic Center, built in 1969. The addition will be a focal point of the Taliesin-designed campus for visitors.

The new building includes an elevated four-lane indoor running track, basketball courts, a weight room, and a dance studio/multipurpose room. A dramatic two-story atrium will link the existing field house and the addition. The $14 million facility will be used by local recreational sports leagues, including the Racine Parochial Athletic League, as well as by Prairie students. Construction will begin in a month, and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2005, to help mark the school’s 40th anniversary. Bukacek Construction is the general contractor and the Zimmerman Design Group is the engineering architectural firm.

Montooth began his career as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1945 and has spent most of his career at Taliesin, as an apprentice and an architect, most recently with Taliesin Associated Architects, the firm formed after Wright’s death in 1959. He had once taught high school music and history, and had ideas about what a school should look like.

The first proposed home for the school was the large house at 2300 Washington Ave., which is now the home of Renquist Associates Inc. The plan was to start with grades 1-6, and then build on a 25-acre site in Wind Point as the school grew, a grade at a time.

The plan to convert the former Sidley home into a school and meet building codes proved too difficult, so planners of the school had to start over again, looking for architects to design a campus on their land west of Lighthouse Drive, north of Three Mile Road. When Montooth was hired as the architect, he was told the school had to be ready in time for the 1965-66 school year.

Two Milwaukee architects, as well as Montooth and Wes Peters from Taliesin, had submitted proposals.

“The plans were different, day and night,” said Gene Johnson. The Milwaukee architects had designed buildings with rectangular rooms “like every other school,” she said. The Taliesin proposal was in sharp contrast to those ideas, a series of flowing curves which spread out across the campus.

Montooth recalls the hectic demands of The Prairie School commission, over a leisurely lunch, after making yet another of his weekly three-hour drives from Spring Green to discuss plans for the new field house.

“I remember Gene coming once to Arizona (to Taliesin West, the architects’ winter home in Scottsdale) with the headmaster, and they wanted a plan,” Montooth said. “They had me working at night in the drafting studio which had a canvas roof, and I remember the wind blowing, the flaps blowing.”

Johnson said that while Montooth’s final plan was attractive, and fit the school’s philosophy of doing away with a traditional, box-like building with box-like classrooms, it was more expensive than the fledgling school could afford. Montooth and Peters didn’t want to lose the commission, so they proposed starting with a modest semicircle, then gradually adding on to the building.

The construction deadline was a nightmare. No faculty had been hired yet, but the school had to be finished in 80 days. Construction started May 25, 1965, with a center stake on the Wind Point campus site.

Montooth says he admired the teamwork of contractor Bud Nelson’s crews. Concrete floors were poured literally just behind plumbers and electricians who were laying pipes in gravel under the floors. The building was finished in 77 days, three ahead of schedule, despite heavy rains in August which left the site and construction equipment mired in mud.

Sam Johnson had said he would eat his hat if they met the deadline, and 20 years later, he happily bit into a hat-shaped cake at a school anniversary celebration, just as he had in 1965.

Gene Johnson said there was never any question of having any architect other than Montooth work on the school’s additions.

“It’s been easy to add on to and keep the same architect,” she said. “Prairie is very consistent throughout.

“He did such a beautiful job on the buildings originally, and we wanted the same kind of architecture. We would stop at a hallway and we would have to add on to the hallway and so we had to choose Charles.

“We were very pleased with what he did. I don’t think that thought (of hiring another architect) ever entered our mind; it was always Charles, because his designs were so much better than anybody else’s.”

The buildings blended well with the landscape, a concept that was important to Wright’s former apprentices, she said.

“Other architects seemed to think in straight lines, whereas Charles was always curved and it was beautiful the way it fit into the surroundings and other buildings,” she said. “It adds so much to the building; it gives a flowing feeling.”

She laughs 39 years later as she recalls a detail of the rush to begin construction.

“We were so anxious to get started we forgot to get our work permit,” she said. “We got fined $100.”

Montooth said he is reluctant to “hog” publicity, insisting that he is only part of a larger team. There is no shortage of praise for him, however, from team members.

Headmaster Mark Murphy fondly remembers when the Upper School addition was being planned. Montooth vividly described his vision for the addition at a board meeting, Murphy said: “In his mind’s eye he was touring us through the building.”

His ideas came alive for the board. “It was as if we were right behind him,” Murphy said.

As for the Pearl Palace, it was finally designed by Wes Peters, and is now known as the Morvarid Palace. The Persian Morning Daily calls it one of the nation’s “most prominent contemporary architectural monuments.”