Revisiting Drennan’s “Death in a Prairie House”

Contemporary photos of Taliesin and text © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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The late Prof. William R. Drennan’s 2007 Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders (Madison: Terrace Books) is again a topic of discussion on Facebook’s “The Wright Attitude” group. The book has many fans, as evinced by its continuing sales in Frank Lloyd Wright gift shops, 14 years later. 

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A group member recently posted about excitement about having bought the book. Other group members wrote how much they liked the book. I was sent a review copy of the book when it was published. I read it eagerly, and did, indeed review it on my website, but, likely to the consternation of the author and publisher, I panned it. I was taken to task about my review by one of Prof. Drennan’s acquaintances, but I stand by my critique now, 14 years later. After I commented on the Facebook thread that the book is replete with inaccuracies, I was asked to elaborate on my assertion. That is the genesis of this article.

I sent my 2007 review to a Wright scholar before posting this update. I wanted to get a sense whether it was a fair review, considering that Prof. Drennan has died and cannot defend his work. I was told it is an accurate review. In fact, it was pointed out that I missed a significant shortcoming in the book, Prof. Drennan relying on inaccurate floor plans of Taliesin I, rather than Wright’s own, so that his positioning of the victims at the time of the massacre is inaccurate.

The scholar wrote me of having summarized inaccuracies in a 14-page memo between the printing of the hard and soft cover editions. Evidently some changes were made, but not many. The scholar wrote me last night about one of the points raised:

“The biggest and most notable was that Prof. Drennan didn’t understand Taliesin I. He had the book, Wright Studies, V. 1, in the bibliography but it was obvious the guy hadn’t actually read that book, particularly Anthony Alofsin’s essay on Taliesin I, in which Alofsin identified what he thought was the most accurate Taliesin I floor plan. Prof. Drennan relied on the plan that Storrer created, and the drawing created for In the Nature of Materials. Neither of them showed a garden (with a parapet – just to the south of the living quarters.”

Because the book keeps on selling and presumably is taken as fact by many readers, I am reprinting my review below. 

I was taken aback that a manuscript from a university professor, with many supporting end notes, had so many shortcomings. I am still taken aback by its popularity given its shortcomings. I have one new observation. Sloppy writing and sloppy editing, which should have addressed the sloppy writing, weaken the book significantly. As a journalist it drives me batty that Prof. Drennan did not follow common style of using a person’s full name on first reference and last name only on subsequent references. Wright is referred to alternately as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank (!), Frank Wright (!), and Wright. Julian Carlton is referred to as both Carlton and Julian. Wright’s partner at Taliesin is Mamah Borthwick Cheney, and then Mamah Cheney and Mamah. One of the victims of the attack is alternately Herbert Fritz and Herb Fritz. In 2007 I did not catch that Prof. Drennan also misspelled Alfonso Iannelli’s name (as Ianelli).

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The 2007 review, with slight revisions:

Death in a Prairie House tells a riveting crime story, although the certain motive for the crime still remains a mystery. Prof. Drennan’s account of the brutal attacks weaves together conflicting eyewitness accounts and contemporary newspaper stories. Julian Carlton massacred Mamah Borthwick, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lover; her two children; and four others at Taliesin on August 15, 1914.  Carlton, who was a servant at Taliesin, drank muriatic acid as searchers closed in on his hiding place after the murders. He died in jail several weeks later, before he could be tried, so there has never been a definitive record of what happened, and why. There still is not.

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Literally the first half of the book (84 pages) takes the reader through Wright’s parents’ unhappy marriage, and divorce; and then through Wright’s escape from his work and his own marriage, when he and Borthwick went to Europe in 1909. These chapters of Wright’s life set the stage for the building of Taliesin for readers who know little about Wright; they are familiar for readers who have pored through any number of other books about the him. 

Prof. Drennan writes in the Prologue about the “outrage” in Spring Green that Wright’s paramour was living in his “love cottage.”  He ends the Prologue asking, “What could Frank Lloyd Wright have been thinking?”  I expect that kind of question from a television news anchor, but not from a scholar at the beginning of a book. Readers can form such questions on their own, rather than have them spelled out for them. The book is extensively footnoted (168 pages of narrative are followed by 35 pages of end notes), but it is weakened by conjecture and by errors. 

Prof. Drennan asserts that Wright designed the Charnley House in Chicago. That is subject to speculation, with many scholars of the opinion that Wright was executing Louis Sullivan’s ideas, rather than his own. Prof. Drennan incorrectly writes in a photo caption that Richard Bok’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall” sculpture at Taliesin was executed by Alphonso Iannelli at Midway Gardens. On the last page, he writes that Wright’s daughter, Iovanna, had his body disinterred from its grave at Taliesin, cremated, and his ashes mixed in with those of Olgivanna Wright, his third wife, at Taliesin West, in Arizona. That did happen, but it was done as one of the dying Olgivanna’s last wishes, according to her physician, not on Iovanna’s whim, as the author implies. Prof. Drennan relies heavily on Brendan Gill’s biography of Wright (Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York: De Capo Press: 1998), a book that some Wright scholars say is based on too much speculation. 

Although Ed Gein (said to be the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates in Psycho) and Jeffrey Dahmer are better known and notorious mass murders in Wisconsin, Prof. Drennan opines that Carlton’s killings were more significant in the annals of Wisconsin crime. When he finally begins his account of the murders, it is with the admonition that “so much remains a mystery; there are no definitive answers to motive, logistics, time.”  He writes, on page 101, regarding a suggested timeline of the murders [and inaccurately perpetuates the myth that Carlton was serving soup], “And yet it must be true.” However, he hedges in the next sentence, “Or at least something like it must be true…” 

Not only are the three dozen pages of endnotes are cumbersome to read but there are no indicators in the text that send you to the end notes. Prof. Drennan writes in one on page 189 that since writing the narrative, he has reason to believe that he may not be correct in his description of some of the layout of the house. Why didn’t he correct the manuscript rather than cast doubt on his writing in an endnote that takes up more than a full page?

Prof. Drennan sometimes introduces facts and ideas without explaining their context. For example, on page 35 we are introduced to William Winslow. The reader does not learn for another page that Wright’s first realized independent commission, the spectacular Winslow House, was built for his “neighbor” Winslow [and were they really “neighbors?”]. The reader is never told what an important house the Winslow House is. Prof. Drennan does not explain Wright’s ideas about the Prairie style until page 38, several pages after we have been told about his new style of architecture. He gives us the pronunciation of “Mamah” and “Cheney” only on page 41, 34 pages after we first read her name. He does not acknowledge that she dropped her married name in favor of her maiden name (Borthwick) except in a single photo caption. We are told that Wright learned of the murders in a phone call from “Frank Roth in Madison.” We never learn who Frank Roth was, or why he was charged with calling Wright with the news.

There is a paucity of illustrations. The book, most notably, does not include floor plans of the house which would help the reader visualize where the murders took place, as Carlton laid his hatchet into his victim’s skulls. A photograph of the living room at Taliesin refers to the “Wrightian” hearth. That implies that it is in the style of “Wright.” Who, but Wright, would have designed it? There are hard-to-read reproductions of newspaper accounts of the massacre and fire, but no photographs of the ruins of the house.

Prof. Drennan’s thesis is that Wright’s work became “markedly (and understandably) more insular, more labyrinthine, even more fortress-like” after the fire and murders at Taliesin. Therefore, he continues, “the slaughter at Taliesin may well have exerted a significant influence on American residential design throughout the remainder of the twentieth century.”  It is a dramatic theory, but it is not accurate. 

Wright did not abandon the Prairie-style because of the murders. He wrote in his Autobiography that he was frustrated by both his work and marriage, when he closed a chapter in his career in 1909 and left for Europe. Wright had published a short article, “A Fireproof [my emphasis] House for $5000” in the Ladies Home Journal in 1907, seven years before Carlton burned Taliesin down. Many of the homes he designed after the murders did not have prominent front doors, as Prof. Drennan points out, but neither did many of the ones he designed before the murders. 

Prof. Drennan describes the Freeman House, a concrete block home designed in Los Angeles in 1924 as “aggressively vertical, thumbing its nose at Emerson’s old hunger for the horizontal line.” The site for the Freeman House allows for nothing but an “aggressively vertical” design. The concrete used in the five Los Angeles homes represented an evolution in Wright’s design work, not a reaction to the crimes. He designed his landmark concrete Unity Temple and the brick Larkin Administration Building a decade before the fire and murders at Taliesin. They are as fortress-like from the outside, and fireproof, as Prof. Drennan asserts Wright’s post-1914 designs became. Finally, the Usonian homes designed after the 1930s, as well as Fallingwater and Wingspread, are no less organic and inviting than Wright’s Prairie-style work.

Should there still be any doubt about whether or not Wright significantly changed his designs after August 15, 1914, consider that when he rebuilt the smoldering Taliesin, he again used stucco and wood. In fact, the studio at Taliesin II (as Wright’s rebuilt home was referred to), burned down again, in 1925.

Death in a Prairie House succeeds in giving the reader probably every possible scenario of the massacre to consider. It falls short of its promise in other respects.

***

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Looking over the book in 2021 I credit Prof. Drennan for giving readers the possibility that Julian Carlton was from Alabama, not Barbados as was often written, until Paul Hendrickson painstakingly documented that Carlton was from Alabama in his 2019 book Plagued by Fire. 

The original poster on The Wright Attitude wrote: “…even though I’m sure it’s puffery, it was in the biography/architecture/true crime category so who could resist?” And then, “Is it lurid? I kinda hope so.” Yes, Prof. Drennan’s book is wildly popular. I know how hard it is to write and research a book about historic events. As an author I do not like to denigrate another author’s work, but my advice is still to spend your money on any number of other books about August 15, 1914, that awful summer day at Taliesin.

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Meet “The God-Almighty-Joneses”

© Mark Hertzberg, Simon Evans, and Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke (2021)

It is understandable, perhaps, that they were sometimes referred to by ‘the others’ in the Valley as ‘the God-Almighty Joneses.” Maginel Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s younger sister), in The Valley of the God-Almighty-Joneses, written with Tom Burke (1965).

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Welsh heritage has been well documented, but we now have the opportunity to eavesdrop on new correspondence between two living descendants of those “God-Almighty-Joneses.” They are Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke of Tulsa, Wright’s first cousin, twice-removed, and her distant cousin Simon Evans, who lives in Wales. Nan, who is referred to on some of these slides, is Mrs. Evans.

The Joneses set foot in America when when Mary Thomas Jones (Mallie) and Richard Jones sailed into New York on December 8, 1844, according to a family history written by Jane Lloyd Jones in October 1870. Mallie and Richard settled in Spring Green in 1856 and then across the river at Hillside in 1863. Family members did not add their mother’s surname of “Lloyd” to their names until they got to America. They were “Jones” in Wales. They left Wales from New Quay for Liverpool, where they sailed for New York.

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I have cogitated for weeks how to present this fascinating history. Rather than edit and paraphrase as I originally intended to do, I have decided it best to copy the whole of the current email correspondence between Evans and Snoke, and many of the illustrations in the slide presentation that Evans has painstakingly put together. He lives near the family homesteads in Wales, so his presentation is geared to research he did for his family there. This is a lengthy post, but stick with it…there is a special nugget for fans of PBS television shows, near the end.

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This Wright genealogical adventure started when I was researching my book about Penwern, the Fred B. Jones summer estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin. Wright designed four buildings for the estate, the main house, the boat house, the gate lodge, and the stable, between 1900 – 1903. One of the important questions I sought to answer was the origin of the name of the estate because there is no definitive documentation about that. It had been written in at least one previous book that “Penwern” is Gaelic for “great house” but that assertion is inaccurate. In fact, “Penwern” is a Cornish or Welsh, not Gaelic, and can mean “near the swamp” or “at the head of the alder tree.” A local botanist has told me that alder trees are native to Delavan Lake. 

Jack Holzhueter, a specialist in Wisconsin history, whose areas of interest include Wright’s life and work in the state, was of inestimable help when I worked on the book between 2013 and 2019 when it was published. He introduced me to Snoke. She and I corresponded many times, and she reinforced the idea that the name is seemingly an Anglicization of Pen-y-Wern, the name of Wright’s maternal ancestral home. That notion was also suggested to me by architects and Wright scholars Brian A. Spencer and Tom Heinz.

Snoke and her husband, Ken, traveled to Wales in 2004 and photographed the Pen-y-Wern cottage where Wright’s grandmother Mallie grew up. Holzhueter suggests that perhaps Wright got his American client Jones – not related to Wright’s Jones family – to honor Wright’s maternal family by naming his estate “Penwern.”

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Family accounts differ whether another cottage named Pantstreimon was Richard Jones’s home, or Richard and Mallie’s home before they emigrated. The photo is from cousin Chester Lloyd Jones’s 1938 book “Youngest Son.”

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I put my research into the Jones / Wright family history aside when my Penwern book was published in June 2019, but I have posted many articles about Penwern and Pen-y-Wern to this website. A welcome surprise landed in my email Inbox on November 25, 2020, asking me to approve a comment on one of those Penwern blog posts. That email brings us to this blog post:

Hi guy’s,

I’m Simon Evans, a distant Cousin of Georgia’s; still living in Wales; and I absolutely loved your article about ‘Penwern’. My great great grandfather on my father’s side was John Thomas, Mary Thomas’ little brother; he set up farm a mile down the valley called Plasllwyd, and survived the destitution and impoverishment of that period; he died a few years after Mallie.

I’m double linked to Georgia since, on my mother’s side my great great gran was Hannah Jones, Richard Jones’ sister. Pantsreimon, the farm next to Penwern, was one of the original strongholds of the Lloyd dynasty; they were the ruling Cast of West Wales for Centuries; Anna was obviously proud of this heritage, hence her use of the Lloyd name.

I put Simon and Georgia in touch with one another, and so, here we are. You may need more than one cup of coffee or tea to follow these threads! The boldfaced portions of these emails are as written by the correspondents.

Georgia Snoke to Simon Evans, November 30, 2020

Back atcha!  To properly introduce myself, I am the great granddaughter of the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones.  He and his wife Susan were BIG in Unitarian circles and for all I have read about him, he was a ancestor to revere.  He had two children, a daughter Mary who never married, and my grandfather Richard who married the Georgia for whom I am named.  She was an absolute GEM!  I am so proud to bear her name.  They, in turn, had three children, Richard Jr., Jenkin (my dad) and Bisser (a “Florence”—my grandmother’s mother’s name—who became “Bisser” when two year old Jenkin couldn’t say “Baby Sister”.  She was “Bisser” all her life.)

While Rev. Jenk preached from the pulpit, my grandfather and his progeny preached through a newspaper (CAREFULLY distinguishing between editorial opinion and newspaper fact!  They’d have been appalled by today’s press.)  They left Wisconsin for the new, raw state of Oklahoma in the late 19 teens when the children were between 9 (Aunt Bis) and 13 (Uncle Dick).   All three returned to Wisconsin for college and were great friends with their dad’s cousin Frank, visiting Taliesin frequently on weekends.

My Uncle Dick went into the business side of newspapering and was also president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association; my dad was editor and publisher of the Tulsa Tribune (and syndicated in 140 newspapers), as well as national president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors.  Upon Uncle Dick’s death, Aunt Bis stepped into his shoes as president of the Tulsa Tribune Company.  My two brothers, Jenkin and David, worked full time for the Tribune—Jenkin ending as editor and David as a longtime columnist—and I became a weekly columnist after a few years as a television newscaster. 

I go into all this detail to reiterate the difference between newspaper writers and historians… And much of the secondary research I have done comes from “amateurs” who wrote down what they had been told as children.  There may be gaffs, but the core is there… Blessings, (distant) cousin Georgia

Simon Evans, On Nov 29, 2020

… I’m not a historian; however, it’s been my hobby since I retired nine years ago; having spent forty years at the forefront of driveline technology in the automotive industry; I retired back to the family farm in Ceredigion; it’s been the family home since 1860; but you’ll see from the family tree; my family’s been in these parts for ever.

I remembered my grandparents telling stories about our extended family; and being the only remaining link to the past; I owed it to my grandkids to research its’ voracity, and get it written down for posterity. Well, word got out, and I was asked to give a talk to the community group. 

It ended up being a two-hour Power-Point presentation; and it went down a storm!! 

Other Historical Societies heard about it; so, I’ve been busy for the past two years, giving the talk here there and everywhere it seemed; my favourite venue had to be the Great Hall at Lampeter University; the third oldest University in the UK; that really had atmosphere. 

The Power-Point file is nearly 300MB; not exactly email size; but what I’ve been doing is to break it up into smaller segments in PDF format and to get under the email Limbo limit. 

The two files I’ve attached here are: A fun file I created for the Grandkids showing them that their timid little Nan was a distant cousin of our queen; it gets across quite succinctly, the huge influence the Lloyd family had in these parts. 

The other one is a file I prepared for our Parish Council for their annual Walk for Life initiative; they were going to walk the Aber Loop and wanted me to highlight places of interest along the way; the walk goes quite close to Blaenralltddu; but it’ll give you a taste of the amazing history that lurks in the shadows of a non-descript little backwater of West Wales. 

I’ll have to do a bit of massaging on the other elements to make them attachment size; please bear with me. 

However; the attached is a taster; enjoy. 

Georgia Snoke 29 November 2020:

I am absolutely cock-a-hoop with your information, and I embrace you and yours as cousins. 

 I was very fortunate to have had two splendid Welshmen, one a descendant of Mallie’s family, provide an enormous amount of research to our branch.   One was John Jenkins (sadly deceased) and one was Ifan James, a Mallie descendant.  Ifan gave three days of his life to Ken and me in 2004 and took us all over “our” part of Wales.  I am enclosing an excerpt of those days in the “Black Spot” for your amusement.

Again, so MANY thanks for your extraordinary offerings.  What a joy to “meet” you, Cousin!

Georgia Snoke 29 November 2020:

Dear “Cousin” Simon:

What a wonderful Thanksgiving gift to receive your email.  I am very excited about “meeting” you and look forward to all you may share about the Lloyds.  Our family has always known that Richard and Mallie were “Jones” in Wales, but the family story is when they reached Wisconsin there were so many Welsh Joneses they took their mother’s maiden name as a prefix.  For certain sure, I, for one, claim the Lloyd name with pride and sign my passport Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke.  Some in that second generation (my great grandfather’s–the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones—) wrote the two names with a hyphen; some used periods, some (the eldest) merely used Jones.  But most of us in communication now use the Lloyd as well as the Jones.

A wonderful cousin named Jix (Richard) Lloyd Jones did considerable research on the Lloyds.  I have created a gigantic book filled with various essays—his included—but, like my own essays, I can’t always be sure his facts are accurate.  None of us speak Welsh these days.  He died about three years ago.  What a wonderful, wonderful man!

We Ll-J’s would treasure any information you wish to share.  In fact, I am the “editor” of the annual Unity Chapel newsletter and I would love to include anything you wish to impart.  With full credit to you, of course.

And if you are interested, I would be more than happy to send you a little booklet that I have put together for the next generations.  All I need is your address.

My husband and I have visited Wales several times, always with a stop at Alt-y-roden (sorry about the spelling.  I don’t have my notebooks in front of me.) Pant-y-Dafaid, Blaen-yr-allt-ddu, etc.

In fact, one of the funniest coincidences of my life occurred far from Wales.  My husband and I were getting ready to take a ship to the Mediterranean.  It was disembarking from Cadiz.  We had come a day early, so husband Ken took the rental car to its home and I started unpacking in our cabin.  Over the intercom came an invitation to passengers already on board to join in a luncheon buffet—which sound much more fun than unpacking.  So there was this little lady from Tulsa, Oklahoma standing in line when the two gentlemen behind me introduced themselves to one another.

“Hello.  My name is David…”  “Hello, MY name is David…”  So I, who had a brother named David, quipped over my shoulder, “David is a great name.  Dewi Sant would be proud.”

There was a pause, and then the “David” with the British accent said, “Dewi Sant?  What you you know of Dewi Sant?”  Blush!  So I turned to them, introduced myself, and explained that I didn’t really know much about Dewi Sant—just that he was the patron saint of Wales and I only knew that because some of my ancestors came from Wales.

From the fellow with the British accent.  “Oh. That’s interesting.  Where did they settle?”  “Wisconsin.”  “Where in Wisconsin?”  “Ummm…south central Wisconsin.”  Then came the coup de grace:

“Have you ever heard of the Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses?”  By this time I was gaping.  “That’s my FAMILY!  My great-grandfather was the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd-Jones!”  “Oh yes, yes, yes.  He was the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright.”  And it turned out that this particular David (Barnes) was one of the Lindblad expert guides to the Mediterranean, but he was Welsh and had written his doctoral thesis about religious dissenters in Wales. A whole chapter was devoted to my Lloyd ancestors.  Later, I asked David if I could get a copy of his thesis to read.  Someone else asked him its title and he said, People of Seion.   I gulped and said, “David, it’s already in my library.”

(Re:  The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses:  That is a book written by Frank Lloyd Wright’s little sister, Maginel Wright Barney, in which she chronicles the stories passed down through the family of Wales and Wisconsin.  The title has become affixed to the Valley where the Lloyd-Jones’ Unity Chapel is and the whole family inhabited.)

Long story short, David has remained a friend and about three years ago we hired him to take Ken and me, my niece and nephew, and our daughter for a week’s trip to Wales.  What a glorious time!

As I say, that was a truly amazing exchange.  Just as it is wonderful that you’ve contacted Mark and I will have a chance to learn yet more from you.  I hope you are willing.

On November 29 I wrote Georgia, asking her to summarize the family tree for me:

Richard Lloyd Jones, my grandfather, was named for his grandfather Richard who, with his wife Mallie (Mary Thomas) and their seven children, made the voyage to America.  One of their sons, my great grandfather, the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones was the brother of one of their daughters, Anna Lloyd Wright.   Their sons (Richard and Frank) were therefore first cousins.  Frank built my grandparents’ home, Westhope, in Tulsa.  I knew it well as I stayed there whenever my parents went out of town.

I call Richard and Mallie the first (American) generation.

Reverend Jenkin, Anna Lloyd Wright, and 9 siblings were born.  One, Nany, died as a child) — They made up the second generation.

The third included my grandfather, Richard, and his cousin Frank.

The 4th—my dad, aunt and uncle of the “Jenkin line”

My dad’s kids—me, my two brothers, sundry cousins—5th generation

Our kids and grandkids — 6th and 7th.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

Does that give you the family “tree”?  Of course, the 2nd generation farm families had a passel of kids—which is why the “Aunts” (Nell and Jennie) used their skills as teacher to begin Hillside Home School.  They never married and Margaret survived her two sons and two husbands, but the rest of the family was ore or less awash in kids.  The third generations focussed on education.  They spread far out from Spring Green.  It wasn’t until the death of actress Ann Baxter’s mother (a daughter of Frank) that the family began to coalesce around the abandoned Unity Chapel.  Branch by branch we made re- connection.  Now every five years (except this year) a reunion draws us together.

Hope this helps sort us out, Mark.  Blessings to you!  G…

I have, indeed, made connection with Simon Evans and he is, indeed, a (distant) relative.  Furthermore, he has a gazillion stories to tell about the Lloyds (from whence the “Lloyd” of Lloyd-Jones and Lloyd Wright comes.)  He is a delight, and I’d have utterly missed out had you not given me that nudge.  Thank you, thank you my friend!  Georgia

Georgia to Mark, December 3:

Dear Mark:

I absolutely loved Westhope [the house that Wright designed for her grandfather, Wright’s cousin Richard Lloyd Jones, in Tulsa].  More or less growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house spoiled me.  There is a family story that Frank was supposed to design its furniture, too, but the man he sent to oversee its construction spent that money on his family.  It was the Depression.  No one sued, but the only furniture my grandparents’ got was a fabulous desk with crawl through space beneath for us young children.  (It now resides, as I recall, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.)   When my great grandmother in Eau Claire died, her plush Victorian furniture was brought to Oklahoma.  Aunt Bis always said that the Victorian furniture “softened” the angularity of the architecture.  She saw the house through several different owners and never liked any of their furniture in comparison.

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It was my beloved Aunt Bis who really introduced the Lloyd Jones family to me.  As I said to Simon, the Jenkin line in Tulsa, Oklahoma was pretty isolated from other branches.  Aunt Bis saw an article on Elizabeth Wright (FLlW granddaughter), and dropped a note to her.  That introduced us to the Anna line.  But when the mother of Liz’ cousin, actress Ann Baxter, died, the idea of checking on “the dear old chapel” in Spring Green, WI was raised.  There was a 1979 picnic at Tan-y-deri that my dad took Ken, our girls and me to.  From that came the formation of Unity Chapel, Inc.  I’ve twice served as its president as well as multiple times as board member.  Both my girls are on the board today.

Meanwhile, I became hooked on Lloyd Jones history.  I would come to board meetings a couple of days early and spend them in the newspaper archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.  That led me to all sorts of other research.  It has been a wonderfully fulfilling episode in my life, and I probably know more about the second generation (my great grandfather’s) than anyone now living.  I came to admire them hugely.  For the most part, they were farm folks, but their drive and curiosity and creativity were astounding.  And even in that second generation you had two extraordinary female educators and an internationally known minister.

Georgia to Mark December 7

Mark:  the first cottage is  Blaen-yr-allt-ddu (my spelling is suspect) where my great grandfather (the Rev.) Jenkin was born.  The family landed in New York a year later.  The plaque on the wall commemorates his birth there, put up by Chicago parishioners following Jenkin’s death.  The cottage has been much expanded since then.

 

The white cottage continues to puzzle me.  It is charming…and far different from the Pen-y-wern stone (and forbidding-looking) structure whose picture Ken took. The white cottage is identified as Pen-y-Wern in Chester Lloyd Jones’ book, Youngest Son (about his father Enos, last of the 1st generation flock.)  And yet when Ifan James took Ken and me around family structures in 2004, it was the dark and dour tall stone building  he identified as Pen-y-Wern.  And that’s what the sign says!   

Wait!  It was Ifan James who took Ken and me to dark and dreary Pen-y-Wern.  It was his dear friend, colleague, and terrific researcher into Ll-J materials John Jenkins who made corrections for other photos in Chester’s book, but slid right over the i.d. of the white cottage.   John had died by our 2004 visit—a great loss.  As a surmise, he knew Pen-y-Wern as Mallie’s birthplace but never actually saw it.  If Chester identified the white cottage as such, John may have accepted his i.d..  Who knows?  I am so sorry to have totally lost contact with Ifan James.  I don’t even know if he is still alive.

Simon:  When Ken and I, in the company of Ifan, met the couple who owned Pen-y-Wern they were cordial…Their children were not interested in farming.  They didn’t know what the future would bring.  I don’t know if they are still there.  But I wonder if there is a historical society in the area that could identify the white cottage?  Could be worth a try?  As I said, I’ve been puzzled by that photo in Chester’s book for years.

Onward!  G

Much of Simon’s presentation touches on the family’s strong ties to the Unitarian religion. Economic hardship and the quest for religious freedom spurred Mallie and Richard to emigrate to America.

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The Rebecca Riots were Welsh resistance to the imposition of tolls on roads in Wales. According to Wikipedia, the ringleaders of the resistance were sent to Australia as convicts, but the toll gates were dismantled in time when it was determined that they were an obstacle to free trade.

There is one more tantalizing discovery…the Royal Family is related to the Lloyds. LR Nan's Ancestral Surprise-4.jpg

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So, now we have a link between Frank Lloyd Wright’s family and the House of Windsor, the Royal Family of Great Britain (something that the producers of Masterpiece Theater and “The Crown” have overlooked)! What think you, should the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and Other Things Wright send a post to Buckingham Palace, inviting them to join their ranks or at least send a few pounds and shillings their way? After all, Prince of Charles, you know, the Prince of WALES (!) is keenly interested in architecture!

A commemorative plaque was unveiled in 1922 at Jenkin Lloyd Jones’s birthplace:

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Georgia and Simon have taken us on a remarkable journey. It begins with a couple seeking better fortunes and religious tolerance and ends with their grandson, an architect who spent his summers in the valley of “the God-Almighty Joneses,” whose work is revered to this day. I leave you with photographs I have taken at Unity Chapel, the family chapel across the road from Wright’s beloved Taliesin. I also thank Keiran Murphy for her assistance with this blog post (and countless other projects of mine!). I joke, but am not far off the mark, when I tell people that she likely knows more about Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright than he did.

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This is where the family gathers every five years for a reunion (when there is no pandemic…2020 was canceled). Perhaps Simon and Nan can join them in the future!

Further Diminished: The Wright World, Journalism, and Chicago

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Yesterday Blair Kamin, the distinguished architecture critic of The Chicago Tribune, announced on Facebook that he is taking a buyout from the newspaper. This is a triple loss. First, let me copy his post:

“After 33 years at the Chicago Tribune, 28 as architecture critic, I’m taking a buyout and leaving the newspaper. It’s been an honor to cover and critique designs in the first city of American architecture and to continue the tradition begun by Paul Gapp, my Pulitzer Prize-winning predecessor.During these 28 years, I have chronicled an astonishing time of change, both in Chicago and around the world. From the horrors of 9/11 to the joy of Millennium Park, and from Frank Gehry to Jeanne Gang, I have never lacked for gripping subject matter. Whether or not you agreed with what I wrote was never the point. My aim was to open your eyes to, and raise your expectations for, the inescapable art of architecture, which does more than any other art to shape how we live.So I treated buildings not simply as architectural objects or technological marvels, but also as vessels of human possibility. Above all, my role was to serve as a watchdog, unafraid to bark — and, if necessary, bite — when developers and architects schemed to wreak havoc on the cityscape. I am deeply grateful to my newspaper, which has never asked me to pull punches. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with talented editors, reporters, photographers and graphic designers. They have been a huge help. Journalism, like architecture, is a team enterprise. What will I do next? I have no idea. After decades of stressful deadlines and rewriting paragraphs in my head at midnight, I’m ready for an extended break — and many long bike rides along Chicago’s lakefront.It’s essential that a new critic, with a fresh set of ideas, take up where Paul Gapp and I left off. Imagine Chicago without a full-time architecture critic. Schlock developers and hack architects would welcome the lack of scrutiny. -30-“

This is a Wright website, so I will first touch on that aspect of his announcement. Kamin mentioned that his predecessor was a Pulitzer Prize-winner. He did not mention his own Pulitzer, awarded in 1999. He has written distinguished commentary about architecture and development for 28 of his 33 years at the Trib. He often wrote about the World of Wright. He was dispassionate about the topic which so many Wrightians are emotional about. Indeed, at the 2007 annual conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Northbrook, Illinois, he referred to those “who drink the Cherokee red Kool-Aid.”

I sometimes emailed and talked with Kamin as I worked on my Wright projects. I was flattered in 2006 when he included my book about Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House as one to put on holiday shopping lists. In 2008 when there was a controversy over the assertion that several dozen undocumented Wright homes had been found in River Forest, he quoted my on-line rebuttal in a follow-up news article.

He was an invaluable resource for many in the Wright community, including the Building Conservancy. We will miss his insight and thoughtful writing about all things Wright.

As a journalist, I understand Kamin’s decision to take a buyout. Alden Capital, a hedge fund company that has a reputation for buying newspapers and stripping them of staff and quality, is making a move to acquire Tribune Newspapers. I also worked for a chain of newspapers. The thought of our being acquired was an ugly monster constantly looking over our shoulders. In our case in Racine before I took my buyout in 2012, we worried about being swallowed up and decimated by the Gannett behemoth or by the Milwaukee newspaper (which is now part of Gannett). Many newspapers – including Milwaukee – have eliminated their critics’ jobs. The Tribune has shed job after job after job in the last 10 years. so I have remained pleased (yet frankly surprised) that Kamin still appeared in my daily Trib news feed and Sunday print edition this long. It is hard working while waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. You fear what the next call to see your editor (or someone in human resources) will mean. There comes a time when enough is enough.

Chicago will be diminished as developers and members of the City Council will no longer have Kamin looking over their shoulders. Daniel Burnham famously said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.” There have been many “big plans” announced in recent Chicago history, but they were not necessarily the best plans. Kamin’s columns were Chicago’s conscience to praise worthy ones, and try to hold others in check.

Kamin ended his post with “-30-” which was the traditional symbol at the end of a newspaper story (submitted to the city desk on paper!) that the editor now had the whole piece to look at.

Thank you, Blair, for your service to architecture, to journalism, and to your community.

-30-

Bill Boyd and the Keland House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Karen and Bill – August 16, 2008 at Lake Owen, Wisconsin, their summer home

One way to become steward of a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is to marry into it. That is how Bill Boyd came to be a steward of the Keland House in Mount Pleasant (Racine), Wisconsin in 1982. He joked with me that he was accused of marrying his late wife, Karen Johnson Boyd, for just that reason. She and her first husband had commissioned the house in 1954. Bill, who was properly called Dr. William B. Boyd, and WBB to those who worked with him, died peacefully Wednesday December 16 in his beloved Keland House after a short illness. He was 97. His dear Karen had died in the house in January 2016.

Keland House 5.14.18 002.jpgThe Keland House, May 14, 2018

Bill told me that he had never seen a building designed by Wright until he came to Racine in 1980 for an interview to become the second president of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Johnson home that Karen grew up in. Wingspread was designed by Wright in  1937. The interview, with Karen’s brother, Sam, the president of SC Johnson, took place in Wright’s landmark SC Johnson Administration Building (1936). Bill summed up his initial reaction to Wright’s architecture in just three words, “I was smitten.”

Wright presented a Japanese print by the famous woodblock print artist Utagawa Hiroshige to H.F. Johnson Jr. when the family moved into Wingspread. The print hangs in the master bedroom in the Keland House:

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Bill missed an immersion into the World of Wright in the early 1950s, when he was studying for his Master’s degree at Emory College in Atlanta. He had applied for a position at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Dr. Ludd Spivey, a teetotaler who commissioned Wright to design the college campus in 1938 (10 Wright-designed buildings were ultimately constructed), was in Atlanta. He invited Bill to a lunch interview. Dr. Spivey said, “Before we begin, I must ask you if you drink alcohol.” Bill replied, “I enjoy a drink now and then.” The interview was over. Bill was on his own for lunch after Dr. Spivey rose from the table, and declared “There is no point in our going on any further.” I told him I was glad he enjoyed a drink “now and then.” If he had gone to Florida Southern, I said, he may not have come to Wingspread, and I would not have met him.

Boyds 005.jpgAugust 14, 2008, Lake Owen, Wisconsin

He had a distinguished career in academia, though not at Florida Southern, of course. He was President of the University of Oregon for five years before coming to Wingspread. His academic career is summed up in the obituary he asked me to prepare with him five years ago: Dr. Boyd, who earned his Ph.D. in Modern Diplomatic History from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, was awarded five honorary degrees during his career. He was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Alpha Theta national honor societies. Between 1954 and 1980 he served in the Humanities Department at Michigan State University; then as Dean of Faculty at Alma College; as a Dean and Director of the Honors Program at Ohio State University; Vice-Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and as President of Central Michigan University prior to his appointment as President of the University of Oregon in 1975.

He was not a dull academic. On the contrary, he had great joie de vivre.

IMG_0449.jpgAugust 10, 2016, on Lake Owen

A Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he grew up on the water near Charleston, South Carolina, and loved sailing both on Lake Michigan in Racine, and on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

Lake Owen 08 037.jpgKaren and Bill on Lake Owen, Wisconsin, August 14, 2008

When the producers of the movie Animal House sought permission to film on campus at the University of Oregon, he gave his consent, recalling what he regarded as the short-sighted decision by the administration at UC-Berkley denying Mike Nichols permission to film The Graduate on their campus. His only proviso was that the school not be identified in the film. The famous scene with the horse in the president’s office was, indeed, filmed in his office. Karen once told me that her favorite scene of any movie she had seen was the food fight in Animal House. I profiled Bill and Animal House two years ago:

https://racinecountyeye.com/dr-william-b-boyd-and-his-connection-to-the-movie-animal-house/

WBB Animal House 001.jpgBill wore his Oregon Ducks hat when I profiled his involvement in “Animal House”

Bill had a great social conscience. He told me that he was angered by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s attempts to stifle free speech at Berkley when Bill was the school’s Vice-Chancellor. At the press conference October 12, 1974 introducing him to the University of Oregon community, he said demonstrators outside were “ill-mannered … but manners are not the most important thing in life,” adding that sometimes “passion and tremendous concern for social justice” are just as important.

Buffy Sainte-Marie performed at the festivities surrounding Bill’s inauguration as President of Central Michigan University in 1969. The event was remembered 50 years later in a story online: Not often does a university president offer students an afternoon off from classes to attend an “informal ceremony,” a reception, and a concert performed by a legend of activism and folk music. Fifty years later, the Boyd inauguration is remembered as a notable moment in the history of Central Michigan University, when the students, the trustees, and the President opted to forego pomp and circumstance in favor of “a ‘swinging’ ceremony.” From:

http://www.clarkehistoricallibrary.org/2019/05/fiftieth-anniversary-of-president-boyds.html

He spoke with pride of clandestinely delivering what would have been deemed subversive material to a Jewish “refusenik” in Moscow during a conference in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

He was passionate about Racine’s Kids First Fund. Wrote Marge Kozina, I have been very fortunate to have had the wonderful opportunity of working closely with William Boyd (Bill) for many years when I was executive director of the Racine Community Foundation (RCF) and Bill was a board member. He was the leading force, along with several others, in helping create and grow the Kids First Fund within the Foundation. Bill’s dedication and leadership in the early years have benefitted thousands of students and hundreds of teachers within the Racine Unified School District. He is deeply committed to enhancing the lives of others through education. Bill Boyd is one of the nicest and caring gentlemen I have ever met in my life.  Both Bill and Karen, each in their own special way, have made enormous efforts to bettering our community.  

Freeman Dinner Keland 011.jpgSeptember 27, 2018, hosting a special dinner cooked by Wright aficionado and master chef Steven Freeman. It was a joyous evening, marking Bill’s first meal at the dining room table in the Keland House since Karen’s death almost three years earlier.

Journalist Clay Eals, who covered the University of Oregon for The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper, quoted part of Bill’s presidential inauguration speech in the January 18, 1976 edition of the newspaper. His remarks seem prescient today: A changed set of American expectations about life in the third century of the republic, the constricted state of the national economy, and the fears of a student generation viewing an anxious future from a normless present all pose challenges to the existing shape of the university….As usual in human affairs, discriminating judgments are required if human intellect and imagination are to prevail over temptations and anxieties.

In an email sent after he learned of Bill’s death, Eals called him “a reporter’s dream.” He included a clipping of a story about Bill being interviewed in the middle of a scandal in the athletic department. He opened his briefcase to refer to some papers only to find a pair of pants inside. “I’ve been trying to get them to the dry cleaners for a week,” he said. “And I haven’t had a clean shirt for days.”

Eals wrote to Bill in June 2020, including a copy of the last story he wrote for the newspaper in June 1980, a story about Bill that he wrote in longhand in his car, literally the night before leaving on a cross-country bicycle trip. Among my favorite news sources was you, and I had many occasions to cover stories in which you were an important, if not primary, source. Your cool informality, sense of humor, and way with words were most impressive. Seemingly effortlessly, you set people at ease.

Ellen Brzezinski, one of Bill’s nurses, sent family members and Eals’s letter with this note: Mr Boyd got this letter in the mail today. I read it to him and barely made it through without crying.  What a tribute!

Roger Dower, one of Bill’s successors at President of the Johnson Foundation, noted his lasting impact on the institution: Bill had a diverse and sharp intellect, but also a deep passion and caring for improving the lives of people nationally and in Racine. His programs and conferences at the Johnson Foundation on the critical  role of quality education for all children, placed that topic squarely on the national and local agenda. The Foundation’s work on K-12 education, under Bill’s direction, remains as influential today as it was in the mid-1980’s and remains a focus for the Foundation today.

Bill believed deeply in the power of convening small groups to solve big problems – the principal activity of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread then and now.  With his usual eloquence, Bill frequently said, “ while small group meetings may seem like frail weapons to take on the daunting challenges of our times, just properly used they can slay dragons.”

Keland House 2002 016.jpgBill gave me my first extensive tour of the Keland House on November 1, 2002. He saw this nuthatch through the window, when we paused on the steps, and remarked, “This is what I love about living in this house.”

Keland Birds.jpgIn January 2019 I photographed this silhouette of the birds outside as we had lunch together in the family room.

Stacy Owens, Bill’s lead nurse, told me that Bill died peacefully, and that “he saw Karen just before he died.” Rest in peace, my friend. The world is richer for having known you.

I leave you with a photograph I took of the refrigerator at the Keland House when we were getting ready to enjoy Steven Freeman’s dinner:

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Rest in Peace, Maggie of the Hardy House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

IMG_6406.jpegThere are long shadows at the Hardy House this week, or so I thought when I rode my bicycle past the house today and reflected on the deaths of two of its stewards. I took these  photos in their memory with my phone camera. Eugene “Gene” Szymczak, who rehabilitated the house from 2012 until his sudden death, died December 3, 2016, four years ago this Thursday. Margaret Yoghourtjian died yesterday evening.

IMG_6411.jpegThe afternoon sun shines through a window in the second floor north stairwell.

IMG_6408.jpegThe sun casts a shadow of the cantilever that shelters the north entryway to the house.

I lost a friend last night, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House in Racine lost another of its stewards, when Margaret Yoghourtjian – Maggie to her family – died Monday November 30. Margaret, 98, and her late husband Jim, were stewards of the house from 1968 – 2012. Jim, a renowned classical guitarist, was 91 when he died in May 2015.

Margaret and Jim 9.1.04006.jpgMargaret and Jim in the Hardy House living room, August 2004. Jim wrote his beloved Maggie a poem every year for her birthday. They married in 1950.

It was initially hard for me to get to know Margaret, much less get close to her. She often referred me to as her “nemesis,” but in truth, we had a wonderful relationship. The Yoghourtjians had shared their house with Wright aficionados for many years. Two unpleasant incidents some years after they bought the house caused them to decide that it was their home, and no longer a semi-public site. I confess that not long after moving to Racine in 1978 I saw Jim in front of the house, pulled to the curb, proclaimed that I was interested in Wright’s work, and asked if I could see the house. He declined my request. I was disappointed, but years later I understood his reaction to my brash request. In later years when he was Wrighted-out, Jim told me that when people asked him about the house if they saw him gardening in front, he would tell them that he was only the caretaker, and knew nothing about it. (But if Jim liked you…well, his apple pie was legendary!)

Margaret Grape Leaves 004.jpgMargaret and Jim were Armenian. Their families suffered through the Armenian genocide. Margaret came to our house in 2014 to make stuffed grape leaves with my wife, Cindy, and with Joan Szymczak, whose brother-in-law Gene had bought the house from the Yoghourtjians in 2012.

I began my serious Wright studies in the early 2000s. I wanted permission to take a picture from the Hardy House living room balcony to show the view of Lake Michigan through the two-story living room windows. I knew that the house was off limits. Period. End of story. Don’t even bother to ask. But I called the house anyway on March 1, 2003. I was astonished when Margaret answered because she preferred to screen calls from the answering machine.

She knew me from my work at the newspaper (she worked there as a proofreader before my tenure there). I promised not to photograph any other part of the house. Margaret said she would consider the request. I was sure that meant “no” and that this was my single chance to talk to her. I stalled, thinking of any possible way to keep her on the phone. I told her that if she called me back during the weekend she would not be able to reach me because I was going home to New York City to help my brother celebrate his birthday, “He will be five-five on 03-03-03.” Her voice brightened. “His birthday is March 3? So is mine!” I sent her flowers. I had an entree into the house.

I learned that Margaret loved chocolate. I asked if she had ever had chocolate-covered marzipan slices from Larsen’s Bakery. She had not. I brought her some. She was smitten by them. I would periodically leave a package of them at the door – which was never answered – and leave a phone message for her to look outside for a special delivery. Would it be wrong of me to say she could sometimes be impish? She called me at work one day and said, “I got the package. I don’t want you doing this anymore. But if you insist, Tuesday is the best day for me!” (She had told me that she would have a bite and freeze the rest for later so the treats would last longer). How can you resist loving someone like that?

I gradually gained Margaret’s trust and got permission to take more photographs on the condition that they not be shown publicly. In June 2003 I gave my “Wright in Racine” presentation at the SC Johnson Golden Rondelle. I invited Margaret but she told me she would not come because she was angry, thinking I had broken my promise about not showing the photos publicly. I scanned the audience, and indeed, she was not there. Then I saw her come in – almost sneak in so I might not see her – and take a seat in the back row seconds before the lights went down. She saw the presentation and saw that I had kept my promise, and I was back in her good graces.

She signed off on the photos of the house that were in the book. Then came the next challenge. Pomegrante Publishing offered me a contract to write and photograph a book about the Hardy House, deadline January 2005. Margaret’s brother, Ardie Kaiserlian had warned her, she said. “If you give him an inch, he’ll try to take a mile.” We laughed about that warning many times, because Ardie was right.

One day Margaret gave me a box and said she had saved every letter written to the house since they bought it in 1968. There were about 180 letters, which I catalogued in a data base. My original concept for my Hardy House book was to write “Dear Frank Lloyd Wright House,” a book about letters to a Wright house. I contacted as many of the correspondents as I could find, to get their permission to use their letters, Most agreed. Pomegrante was less interested in that approach than I was, and so the book took a different turn, but those letters helped me gain context and perspective for the history of the house.

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Margaret zealously guarded her privacy. I made sure that she approved the photos I was submitting to Pomegrante. All was well until Katie Burke, the publisher, emailed me that there had to be at least one photo of one of the four bedrooms. I gulped. The bedrooms had been off-limits to my cameras. Katie was clear, no bedroom photo possibly meant no book. I called Margaret and got another “I’ll think about it.” No amount of marzipan would help me this time. I did what Ardie had warned her about, and pushed to go for that extra mile. She reluctantly agreed to the photo session. When I arrived to take the pictures she proudly told me that the afghan on her bed for the photos was one that her mother had made.

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I took these rather pedestrian photos, and then I took one of my favorite photos, the view from her bedroom:

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I asked all the stewards of the house, or their descendants, to sign my copy of my Hardy House book. While Margaret had been leery about the book, she told me she was happy I had written it. She wrote: “Nemesises can change into angels. Mark has done that. M.”

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Today Margaret’s niece, Pat Yoghourtjian, told me, “Nemesis? To get a nickname like that is special.” (I had also earlier been honored by Margaret with my own key to the house).

Pat also told me that every Christmas a mysterious plastic ornament appeared on their tree after Jim and Margaret’s visit. Inside was a $20 bill. No one ever saw Margaret pull her Santa trick.

Margaret was Ardie’s older sister. Ardie and his wife, Penny, chuckled today when I told them that Margaret – their Maggie – often told me about taking Ardie on the North Shore interurban train from Racine to Chicago to take him to Cubs baseball games at Wrigley Field.

Joan Szymczak, Gene’s sister-in-law, remembered Margaret fondly as a lover of nice clothes. Margaret and Jim went to Siena, Italy in the 1960s, so Jim could study with Segovia. She brought many new clothes home with her. In 2012, Margaret donated many of her clothes to a vintage clothing shop owned by Ginny Hintz, the mother of Joan’s future son-in-law. Ginny and Joan took Margaret out to lunch and they stopped at the shop on their way home. Ginny told her to pick out anything she wanted and take it with her. “She is going through all the lovely items Ginny had redone, from the 50s, and what does she come up with, but her own coat that she had donated! There was consistency, she had impeccable taste that never went away.”

She also had a smile that never went away. Rest in peace, dear Margaret.

I leave you with two photos that Margaret took of the house in 1968:Exterior Main 2.jpg

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***

Gene Szymczak contacted me in 2012 when he gathered that the house was for sale (I was helping the Yoghourtjians sell the house, and we did not want to put a For Sale sign up in front of the house). While the late John G. Thorpe of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy sagely advised me to step aside and let professionals take over, I wanted Gene and the Yoghourtjians to meet at Jim and Margaret’s new apartment. I suggested that Gene bring Margaret some marzipan from Larsen’s. He did. He also brought a copy of a Japanese print that was reminiscent of Marion Mahony’s famous view of the lake elevation of the Hardy House from below. We were having lemonade and cashews in the Yoghourtjian’s living room when Gene turned to them and made an offer for the house. There was no need for professionals. The house had passed from one loving steward to another.

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Winslow…and Charnley

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

“The Winslow House had burst on the view of that provincial suburb like the Primavera in full bloom. It was a new world to Oak Park and River Forest. That house became an attraction, far and near. Incessantly it was courted and admired. Ridiculed, too, of course. Ridicule is always modeled on the opposite side of that shield. The first house soon began to sift the sheep from the goats in this fashion.” – From Frank Lloyd Wright’s “An Autobiography,” P. 152 of the 1977 Horizon Press edition.

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I opened the 1963 Horizon Press edition of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wasmuth Portfolio which my dear friend Gene Szymczak (steward of the Hardy House) gave me a few months before he died, when I began writing this piece. The first three of the 100 plates are the landmark house he designed for William Winslow (1893, River Forest, Illinois, T.9305):

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What were you doing when you were 26 years old? As for Frank Lloyd Wright, well, he “shook out of his sleeve” a landmark house.* The Winslow House was not his first commission, but it was the first one he could proclaim as his. He had quit or been dismissed from Adler & Sullivan, and no longer had to hide behind Cecil Corwin’s name or Adler & Sullivan’s names (the latter, as in the case of the James Charnley House – Chicago, 1891, T.9101). I was given the privilege of photographing the house two weeks ago by its stewards who I am not naming, to protect their privacy.

This post was originally going to be solely dedicated to my recent Winslow House photos, but it evolved as I thought about Tim Samuelson’s “Wright Before the Lloyd” exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The exhibition includes a large photograph of the front of the Charnley House. I knew I would be photographing Winslow soon when I saw the exhibition. When I looked at the photo below, I thought that the entrance to Charnley was a bit like what Wright would design for Winslow two years later. Looking at the square windows on the third floor of Charnley also made me think of the windows that flank the front door of Winslow.

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As I looked at my 2014 photos of Charnley this evening, I saw enough to make me think that some of Charnley’s details seem to lay the groundwork for some of Winslow details. Since I started exploring this thesis and emailing scholars, they have affirmed my notion that in some respects Charnley can indeed be considered a rough draft of what Wright would do for his first client after he hung out his architect’s shingle.

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And, the front doors, both highly oranmented (although Winslow is not as stylized as the more narrow Charnley door):

Charnley:

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Winslow:

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And what about the arches that flank the inglenook and fireplaces that warm us after entering each house? In each house the left arch precedes a staircase. First, Charnley, then Winslow (Winslow is undergoing interior restoration which is why some wall surfaces are unfinished):

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Arched passageways, first in Charnley, then in Winslow:

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Unlike Winslow, Charnley has an atrium, but both have wood screens on their staircases:

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Winslow:

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After those comparisons of Charnley and Winslow, I return to the original theme of this post, a photo gallery of my new Winslow photos:

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Back inside the house, we start at the inglenook again:

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Winslow House 10.28.20 063.jpgThis original thermometer (Winslow was a metal fabricator) still works:

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I am not showing many interior spaces, to respect the stewards’ privacy:

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One of my favorite features of the house is the octagonal staircase in the stair tower:

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Allow me one more comparison, to the ceiling in the drafting room at the Home and Studio (Oake Park, 1897, T.9506)…both are octagonal:

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The stable, first viewed through the dining room bay windows and through the windows on the rear stair tower:

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The stable, framed by the porte-cochère:

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I photographed the fireplace in Unity House (at Unity Temple) a few weeks ago. Heidi Ruehle told me that there supposed to be a mural around the fireplace. Unadorned, it made me think of the entry to the Winslow House where I would be taking pictures that afternoon:

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“When I first laid eyes on the Winslow House from the street (as a 22-year-old architecture student), I felt like I was in a church, the presence viewed from the street was so powerful. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wright building that impacted me in that manner. It was a powerful experience.” – Randolph C. Henning, architect and Frank Lloyd Wright author and scholar, in an interview with the author, November 10, 2020.

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*There are numerous references in the Wright literature to him “shaking” designs “out of his sleeve.”

Web Links:

The stewards of the Winslow House sent me this link to a comparison between Charnley and Winslow after I wrote them that my essay was turning in that direction:

http://chicagopatterns.com/louis-sullivan-frank-lloyd-wright-charnley-house-part-3/

“Wright Before the Lloyd” Exhibition at the Elmhurst, Illinois, Art Museum:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org/exhibitions/wright-before-lloyd/

Nine Minutes at the Home and Studio

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Wednesday was a lovely fall day, a good day for my Frank Lloyd Wright photo adventure day in Oak Park and River Forest. After several hours photographing both Unity Temple and the Winslow House, I swung by Wright’s Home and Studio for a quick walk-about. It was a very quick walk-about…the metadata on my photos tells me I was there just nine minutes. It would be nice to be able to stay overnight and spend several days taking pictures, but that was not to be during the pandemic. Here is what I saw:

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Home and Studio 10.28.20 005.jpgI am never there when there are no cars parked on Chicago, but this was the starting point for the three photos immediately below:

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And, finally, one frame of Anna Lloyd Wright’s home, just east of the Home and Studio, for my files:

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I was at Winslow House because I wanted to reshoot some of my photos from 2016. I expect to be post the new photos this week.

Unity Temple – A Visual Interpretation

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Many people define Frank Lloyd Wright’s career by his residential architecture and how it often embraced the surrounding landscape. His public buildings are no less important. In contrast to his residential architecture, they turn to the inside, sheltering the worshippers or workers inside from the noise and grit of the neighborhood.

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I was invited to photograph Unity Temple in Oak Park a year ago by Heidi Ruehle, Executive Director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, at the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference. I took her up on her invitation this week. I purposely did not look at other photographs of the building – especially the contemporary ones in Robert McCarter’s monograph for Phaidon’s Architecure in Detail series (1997) before my own photographic exploration of the building. Details of  books about Unity Temple are in a bibliography at the conclusion of this article.

Before you look at how I saw Unity Temple, consider Paul Hendrickson’s words in his book “Plagued by Fire:” “No single piece of Wright architecture moves me more. . . .In a way it’s like emerging from the tunnels of an old ballpark and feeling overwhelmed by the sight of the perfect napkin of clipped sunlit green before you. Only it’s as if the ‘diamond’ has somehow been suspended in air.”

Made of poured concrete, and built between 1906 and 1908, Unity Temple stands in striking contrast to the typical church of the day. The commission for Unity Temple came because Unity Church, its predecessor building (1872) burned down in 1905 after its steeple was stuck by lightning (historic photos courtesy of Unity Temple Restoration Foundation):

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Oh, what a stir Mr. Wright’s church made! Consider that when First United Church of Oak Park built its new home across the street from Unity Temple in 1918, two years after its first home burned down, it chose a traditional ecclesiastical design:

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Wright’s powerful, non-traditional design surely startled congregants when they came to Unity Temple for the first time. Unitarian Universalists challenge many of society’s accepted norms, so why shouldn’t their church challenge traditional architecture? The lack of fenestration – except for clerestory windows – gives no hint of what lies inside.

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As congregants walk in the “front” door, on what would traditionally be considered the side of the building, they read words that embody the Unitarian ideal: For the worship of God [the temple] and the service of man [the fellowship hall]:

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It is indeed a “path of discovery” or “compression and release” to repeat oft-used phrases to describe entry into Wright buildings.Wright brings us into a foyer with a low ceiling. Unity House, a fellowship hall and Sunday school space, is clearly visible to our right.

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The church itself is to our left – but we cannot see the sanctuary. We first go into a narrow hallway, turn, and then up several steps into the sanctuary. Hendrickson’s baseball analogy is vivid. This is the view before we ascend to the sanctuary:

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Or, on a visit like mine, Ruehle will open the doors hidden in a panel behind the pulpit, through which congregants leave after services, and let us peek in:

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Panoramic phone-camera photos show the sanctuary before we explore the architecture in greater detail:

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Although we are attracted to the building’s architecture – it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019 –  we must not forget that the building was designed as a house of worship:

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The minister’s lectern, and the view from the pulpit:

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The stucco walls and wood trim draw one’s eyes up to the ceiling and light fixtures:

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I am gobsmacked by the intricate detail in the hanging and wiring of the lights:

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And then the sun made the ceiling glow:

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Unity House: A fireplace is opposite us as we enter the hall. Ruehle explains that there was supposed to be a mural around the lower part. I told her that it reminded me a bit of the front of the Winslow House (which I was going to photograph that afternoon):

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A sign in one of the classrooms upstairs speaks as much to Wright’s landmark design as it does to the students!

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Unity Temple Restoration Foundation Web Site:

https://www.utrf.org

@flwunitytemple

Bibliography…and I urge you to try a local bookshop before reflexively ordering from the Big A:

Hendrickson, Paul, Plagued by Fire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019).

McCarter, Robert: Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright – Architecture in Detail Series (London: Phaidon Press, 1997).

Siry, Joseph M.: Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture for Liberal Religion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Sokol, David: The Noble Room – The Inspired Conception and Tumultuous Creation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (Top Five Books, 2008).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a Fresh Look at Penwern

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Bill Orkild, the Wizard of Penwern, the magnificent estate that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900 – 1903, invited us to an open house a few weeks ago. The occasion was to show off the new / old gate lodge greenhouse constructed this year. It replicates the original one which was demolished in 1983. I give Orkild that monniker because he is the construction master of virtually every phase of Penwern’s rehabilitation since Sue and John Major became its stewards in 1994.

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/the-coda-to-penwerns-rehabilitation/penwern-greenhouse-6/

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The visit also challenged me to see Penwern with fresh eyes, six months after my last visit. Arches are one of of the design themes of the grounds…this photo of the 28′ arch which spans the front porch, facing the lake, was a new angle for me, even after dozens of visits to Penwern. I also looked at the dormers on the west side of the house differently, as we sat by the pool and enjoyed a picnic lunch:

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Now, onto the greenhouse! The structure is virtually identical to the commercially – built one which Wright included in his design. The new one is an entertainment venue, rather than a greenhouse for growing flowers (Jones loved growing roses). It is surrounded on the east side by a semi-circular boulder wall, another recreated feature of the estate. Bob Hartmann, an architectural archaelogical sleuth from Racine, noticed the wall on the plans and commented that half the wall was missing. Say no more to the Majors and Orkild, there is a full wall again!

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There are now flowers in a planter atop the north wall at the end of the greenhouse. Orkild speculates that the original wall and greenhouse may have failed for lack of a liner to keep water from the plants from seeping down and weakening the structures.

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Now, invitations in hand, let’s go into the greenhouse:

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The design on the windows leading to the new space is reprised on the corners of the counters in the food preparation area:

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One of Orkild’s great contributions to preserving Penwern’s history is the museum he is creating in the stable:

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The work at the gate lodge included the arduous task of scraping off concrete that had been added atop boulders on the walls of the gate lodge water tower as cracks developed over the last 115 years:

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Orkild found an unexpected artifact, a pipe, 12″ into this wall. The pipe is now in the museum. He theorizes that either a mason put his pipe down and forgot about it, or one of his co-workers, annoyed by the smoke, took the pipe, and ensured that it could not be found (or smoked) again.

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This oak table, below, is another recent addition to the museum. The piece of wood from an alder tree is signficant, because one of the possible meanings of “penwern” in the native Welsh is “at the head of the alder tree.”

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Orkild’s wry sense of humor shows in this new display:

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Wizards sometimes don’t show their faces. I offer only this wizard’s shadow as he stands by the stable gate explaining some of the work he has done:

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Recreating the greenhouse was a team effort, and the Majors credited all who had a hand in it with a plaque outside the new structure:

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Remembering Randy Brandt

(c) Mark Hertzberg

None of you in the World of Wright have ever heard of Randolph Brandt, but you are reading this post because of him. Randy, 67, died recently in Texas where he moved after leaving Racine.

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Randy was my editor at The (Racine) Journal Times from 1998 – 2007. I was Director of Photography at the newspaper. I began my serious exploration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Racine around 2001. In September 2003 I was offered a contract by Pomegranate Publishing to write my first book, Wright in Racine. I had a four-month deadline: turn the book around by January 30, 2004 for publication in September. I was working fulltime, but the book was written and edited in many late-night and weekend writing stints, with Randy’s encouragement. He was no less encouraging two years later when Pomegranate gave me a contract to write my book about the Thomas P. Hardy House.

One day Randy came to me and told me that he wanted to expand the newspaper’s Internet presence by having me come up with a personal Frank Lloyd Wright website through the newspaper. Unfortunately many of my blog pieces until about 2012 were lost when there were changes in the companies handling the websites, but here we are today, with you reading this tribute to Randy.

Peter Jackel, one of the finest writers I ever worked with at the newspaper – he’s more than a mere reporter – has penned an obituary story for tomorrow’s paper. It’s on-line now:

https://journaltimes.com/news/local/brandt-former-journal-times-editor-dies-at-67/article_71d6faea-5459-5da3-8a30-00f372987399.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1

Rest easy, my friend. Many of us in Racine miss your genial smile and manner.