Signs of Wright

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Signs guiding people to Frank Lloyd Wright public sites in Wisconsin, including Wingspread in Wind Point, north of Racine, are being placed in communities to guide motorists once they leave the Interstate highways which were marked with “Frank Lloyd Wright Trail” signs last fall. The signs resulted from a bipartisan bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker at Taliesin a year ago.

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The signs above are on I94, near Highway 20, top, and on Seventh Street, just east of City Hall in Racine.

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The sign on the long arm is installed at N. Main and Hamilton streets, north of downtown Racine, Friday April 21 by Jeff Hoffman, John Dirkintis, and Jon Hanson of the city public works department.

FLW Heritage Trail Signs 003.jpgWalker Wright Trail 073.jpgWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is applauded after he signs the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Heritage Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016.  Looking on are Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), left,  State Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), who introduced the bill, and State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), a co-sponsor.

When was Wright possibly wrong?

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

When was Wright possibly wrong? For one, when he possibly made the handwritten notation “Lake Delavan” on one of the drawings for a proposed summer cottage and boathouse for J.D. Stamm in 1945 (Project #4513). And so the project has been listed as being meant for Delavan Lake in both Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer’s “Monograph” of Wright’s work and Volume 3 of “The Complete Works.”

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[Both drawings, above, (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Sue and John Major, stewards of Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (“Penwern”) on Delavan Lake commissioned me to write a book about Jones and Penwern in 2013. (The book will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in the fall of 2018.) I was intrigued by the Stamm project, and excited about it, when I saw it in “The Complete Works,” because I was not aware of such a late project for the lake. The latest documented Wright commission on Delavan Lake was from 1907.

A check of the known Wright correspondence in Anthony Alofsin’s “Index to the Taliesin Correspondence” and with Sally McKay at the Getty Research Center showed only one Stamm letter, an unrelated 1953 note from Stamm to Wright about a movie. Nor was there any record of the Stamms or the project in the Delavan area. Local historians wondered if the project was for Lake Nagawicka, near Delafield, 45 miles and two counties away from Delavan because they had heard of a Stamm marine-related business there.

The hunt was on to find the family. Inquiries to local historical societies and libraries in Delafield were not fruitful. As I often have while working on the book, I turned to Mary Stauffacher, a friend, who is a whiz at navigating ancestry.com. She found John Davies (not David) Stamm’s daughter. Lisa Stamm told me that her father was working on the project for his father, Victor Stamm, not for himself. While she was too young to remember much about the project, she remembered meeting Wright when she was about 3 years old in the late 1940s. And she thought that Lake Nagawicka was, indeed, the likely site of the project because her grandparents, who lived in Milwaukee, would summer on Lake Nagawicka, but she was not certain.

But I could not go on supposition. Lisa passed my questions on to her family, and a few days ago her daughter, Vanessa Parsons, came up with the definitive proof that the project was indeed meant for Lake Nagawicka, rather than Delavan Lake. I was bleary-eyed, nearing the end of an overnight bus trip from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, when I opened her welcome email with close up photos of the block lettering on her copy of the Stamm project. It clearly reads Lake Nagawicka. It took five months of on-and-off digging, but the mystery is solved and the record is set straight, with the generous and patient help of others.

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[Both photos above courtesy Vanessa Parsons and the Stamm family, and (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Brian Spencer, AIA, who has extensively researched the Delavan Lake work, who did restoration work on Wright’s Wallis – GoodSmith House on Delavan Lake in 1992-93 and rebuilt the Penwern boathouse which had been destroyed by a 1978 arson fire in 2005 (working from a single sheet of Wright’s drawings), suggests that the mistake by Wright (or whoever made the notation) was understandable: Delavan? Delafield? Unless one is from the area, it would be easy to mix them up knowing that Wright had about a dozen commissions on Delavan Lake.

It is disappointing  to not know more about the commission and why it was not executed, but it is satisfying to know for certain which lake it would have been built on. Some Wright aficionados have asked for the exact location so they can hunt satellite photos, given that the project evidently would have been connected to an existing house. The hunt for that information continues.

Who is viewing this site?

I am intrigued by the range of nations shown on a world map with flags denoting where readers are from when I look at reader statistics for this site. I appreciate your interest. Feel free to submit comments telling me a bit about yourself and your interest if your are from abroad. I seem to have a steady reader in Spain, some in Canada, regular readers from South Africa and Belgium, etc. Fill us in! You don’t have to sign your name.

Thank you!

Mark Hertzberg

SAH Wisconsin Building Survey

(c) Mark Hertzberg

The University of Virginia Press has released the 13th volume in its “Buildings of the United States” series from the Society of Architectural Historians, “Buildings of Wisconsin.” The book is a wonderful survey of Wisconsin architecture, grouped by county. There are more than 750 entries over almost 500 pages.

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I wish there were more photos, but including more illustrations may have driven the cost considerably past the $85 price.

The books in the series are valuable reference volumes. Although the book is by distinguished scholars, and editors worked meticulously on entries (I was consulted in a lengthy series of emails on the entry for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine to ensure its accuracy, and my photo of the house is on the back cover), but there are regrettably some errors regarding other houses I am personally familiar with. Scholarship evolves, and that is the case here. The Press has responded positively and quickly, not defensively, when I pointed these errors out, and invited me to sign off on corrections for future editions.

Some of the errors involved Wright’s homes on Delavan Lake, based in good faith on previous material published some years ago. I have been researching the homes for almost four years in preparation for the publication late next year by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press of my book about Penwern, Wright’s estate on the lake for Fred B. Jones.

I’ve pointed out to the editors that Penwern is Welsh, not Gaelic, and does not mean “great house.” The Welsh translates roughly to “at the head of the alder tree,” but the name more likely refers to a Welsh cottage of roughly the same name that Wright’s maternal grandmother emigrated from (I wrote about this in a previous post,

https://wordpress.com/post/wrightinracine.wordpress.com/1767 ). The two additions to the main house date to 1909/10, not the 1920s, and had nothing to do with either of Jones’ grandmothers who predeceased the estate. Concerning the Wallis-GoodSmith (not Goodsmith) house, Wallis did not sell the house to the GoodSmith brothers ca. 1900 because of his daughter’s death; she died in the 1920s. Finally, Edgar Tafel’s Robert and Rita Albert House was his first private commission, executed while he was a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, but not done for the Fellowship.

Circumstances have put me in a great time bind at present, which precludes me from writing my own summary of the book. I’m taking a short-cut and letting UVA Press tell its story through the information on their website, http://www.upress.virginia.edu/title/3968

If Wisconsin’s rich architectural history does not interest you, by all means look at other titles in the series, http://www.upress.virginia.edu/search-site?f[0]=field_subject_term%3A10052&f[1]=field_series_term%3A10710

There is also a broad survey available to subscribe to at: http://sah-archipedia.org

New BC web site design

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has just launched a redesigned website at www.savewright.org  The site includes a photo director of virtually all, if not all, of Wright’s extant works. Visit the site and join the BC if you are not already a member!

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New stewards for Wright in Shorewood

(c) 2016 Mark Hertzberg

Angela and Nicholas Hayes joined the Wright family at the end of 2016 when they became the new stewards of the Elizabeth Murphy American System-Built house (1917) at 2106 E. Newton Ave. in Shorewood (near Milwaukee). The house, which was altered in the 1970s with the addition of a basement-level garage, was documented as one of Wright’s American System-Built homes in June, 2015. The siding, which either covers stucco, or more likely replaced it, also masks its Wright heritage. Still, Nicholas notes, ” The entire home remains as drawn, down to the knobs on the dining cabinets.”

The story of the announcement of the re-discovery of the house as one of Wright’s is at https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/newly-discovered-wright-home-near-milwaukee/LR ASB Newton 0002.jpg

 

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The Hayes outlined their interest in Wright and commitment to staying in Shorewood in a letter to the previous stewards, Roger and Pat Wisialowski. The letter, which accompanied their offer to purchase, follows:

“Both lifelong Milwaukeeans, we came to Shorewood 21 years ago to raise our kids among lovely neighbors and homes like yours. We lovingly upgraded our own home and gardens, I built businesses nearby, and Angela became the Art Teacher at Atwater School, where she teaches Shorewood children about local art and architecture, among other things. One of her class projects was to recreate Shorewood facades in clay after hiking neighborhoods, talking about history and engineering, and making 2D pencil sketches. Hundreds of colorful miniatures of familiar homes rest on Shorewoodian fireplace mantels alongside student-signed architectural renderings as provenance.

“With our adult daughters now in college, we’re entering a new chapter: we plan to stay in Shorewood, where we hope to give back. We think your home is an important key.

“Like you, we plan to be attentive and careful stewards and archivists while we live at 2106 East Newton. We will protect its glory, celebrate its importance, and secure its future. We plan to study every detail of Wright’s plans and workmanship and make sure that they remain intact and fresh. We will invest in and care for the home and yard as an important artistic and civic statement.

“To that end, Angela is already supplementing her curriculum to teach students about Wright’s vision, genius and aesthetic through her own experience of living in it. I’ve read every word written about the home since your discovery and will continue to engage the experts to try to uncover new clues and details about its place in our neighborhood. The home will remain a well-cared-for showpiece, although it will not be trampled by tourists. It will stay a private, quiet neighborhood gem, while also, importantly, creating a direct, tangible teaching moment for local kids.”

The Hayes are excited about the discoveries they have made in just a few weeks: “We’ve made some amazing discoveries in one short month: the original porch floor paint was hidden under carpet and parquet. Maple floors run throughout the upstairs (most were covered by linoleum and carpet). The all-birch cabinetry and trim can be painstakingly returned to original with classic materials: vinegar, steel wool, shellac and of course, time.” They are posting their progress on Twitter, including the following pictures, used with their permission.DSC_5302.jpegDSC_5304.jpegDSC_5300.jpeg

 

A lasting last word from Gene Szymczak

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

Gene had a very wry sense of humor. I initially did not understand what was his last jab at one section of the World of Wright until he explained it to me. There was quite a kerfuffle on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s Wright Chat web forum a couple of years ago when I posted photos of the wood gates Gene had made for the entry way of the rehabilitated Hardy House.Hardy Gas Meter Cover 002 LR.jpg

The original gates were taken off by the Archers, the third stewards of the house (1947-1957). I pointed out that the design Gene asked carpenter Chad Nichols to build was Wright’s first gate design for the house, not the simpler one that Wright ultimately executed, shown in a photo by Anne Sporer Ruetz (Hardy House: 1938 – 1947) of her friend Mary Hill putting on her roller skates:LR Gates 035.jpg

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Oh, how the forum lit up with criticism of Gene for ruining the project and for reinventing history. I wondered in response – as I pointed out that to me the most important thing to consider was that Gene had literally saved the house for another hundred years – if Gene should also be condemned for having a television set and a microwave oven in the house because those weren’t historically authentic either.

Gene was hurt by the blog comments. Genuinely hurt. If you knew him, you would understand his feelings. He was the CEO and president of Educators Credit Union which grew to become a major financial institution in Wisconsin under his stewardship so he was certainly a serious man when he had to be. But he was never too serious. He took umbrage at my photo of him smoking a cigar on the dining room terrace with his brother the day he closed on the house because he though it made him look like a “fat cat.” The dispute reinforced his feeling that some in the Wright World are too serious and judgmental.

He found a way to thumb his nose at them when he commissioned a shield to hide the unsightly gas meter in front of the house (moving it was not a practical option).

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I didn’t realize until Gene told me with a smile…he purposely designed it as one of the original gates, albeit turned on its side. Here’s to you, Gene! I laugh whenever I think of your joke on what a friend of mine called “Gategate.”

Postscript after reading an email this morning…Full house museum restoration was way out of budget consideration. I focus on Gene having literally saved the house. It was imperiled. I focus on several thousand people having the opportunity to see the house, which had been closed to the public for several decades. Many, many of them expressed their gratitude to Gene. They include recognized Wright scholars. Gene had told me “this is something I could do for the Racine community” when he considered buying the house. Indeed he did, for Racine and for the Wright community, even if not everyone agreed with all of his decisions.

The Winslow House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2016)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow House in River Forest (1893-94) was the architect’s first independent commission after he left or was fired by Adler and Sullivan. Wright was only 26 years old when he designed the house, but it is one of his masterpieces.

LR Winslow House 001.jpgThere are elements of Louis Sullivan-inspired ornamentation combined with the beginnings of what became Wright’s Prairie-style work. William Winslow is said to have taken so much ridicule about its unusual design from acquaintances that he changed the route of his normal commute to work. I had the great pleasure and privilege of being allowed to photograph the house yesterday. The house is empty, pending finalization of its sale by the Walker family who have been its steward for 60 years. I will concentrate on my photographic impressions of the house, below, and challenge you to your own adventure of discovery as you research different critical analyses of the house and the genius of its design, rather than present my own architectural critique here.

Unlike many of Wright’s later homes, although there is a door at the porte-cochere, there is also a prominent front door facing the street:

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The inglenook, which one encounters immediately across from the front door is one of the signature features of the house. Wright stresses the importance of the hearth by slightly elevating the inglenook to a separate level from the entry way:

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The arches, which are echoed in many of the doorways on the first floor, show Sullivan’s influence at the top of the arch, and Wright’s nascent vocabulary at their bottom:

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Although Wright sometimes used commercial designs in the next few years, he designed windows at the Winslow House, including the dining room windows, top, and living room, below:

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The passageway between the dining room and living room is arched dramatically:

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Another famous feature of the house is the octagonal stair tower on the rear of the house. It is a geometric counterpoint to the flat plane of the front of the house and the curved dining room bay windows:

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The real visual delight, though, is in looking at the design from above and below on the stairs themselves:

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The stable was added at the rear of the property in 1897:

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Unfortunately, the original gate across the front of the stable – later a garage with a turntable because many early cars did not have a reverse gear – is gone. Wright did not build even a simple base for the columns that flank the middle of the stable:

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I leave you with Wright’s designs flanking the front door:LR Winslow House 033.jpg

First Wright Heritage Trail Signage Placed on I-94

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

The new Frank Lloyd Wright Trail was dedicated this morning in Madison. The trail, which runs from the Illinois – Wisconsin state line to Richland Center, is a joint effort by the state departments of tourism and transportation to highlight the rich heritage of Wright’s work in his native state. About 142 signs have been placed in the last few weeks on I-94 and other highways marking the path to nine Wright sites.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the bipartisan bill establishing the Trail in a ceremony at Taliesin in March:

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Signs directing motorists to specific public sites such as the SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower and Wingspread in Racine will be erected in spring.

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A link to the Department of Tourism page with the official map follows:

http://www.travelwisconsin.com/frank-lloyd-wright