SCJ Research Tower: Imitation is Flattery

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Tower Lighter

LR Tower Lighter 052

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

LR Tower Candle 012

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

Tower Tiffany Pin

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Lego Research Tower

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

Celebrating Charles Montooth

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

Montooth Celebration

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

Montooth Celebration

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

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

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

Montooth Celebration

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

Montooth Celebration

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

Montooth Celebration

Montooth Celebration

Montooth CelebrationMontooth CelebrationMontooth Celebration

Jonathan Lipman, left, chats with Jack Holzhueter:

Montooth Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson

Charles Montooth, 94

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Montooth

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Johnson Athletic Center

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

Johnson Athletic Center

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

Johnson Athletic Center

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

Johnson Athletic Center

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

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

Johnson Athletic Center

Charles acknowledges applause during the dedication ceremony in 2005.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Lloyd Wright in the Southwest

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

The recent 25th annual meeting of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Phoenix was my first opportunity to photograph Wright’s work in the southwest. These are some of my favorite photos. Taliesin West is last. The David and Gladys Wright House would be a joy to photograph, but we were asked to respect the owner’s wishes and not photograph even the exterior from the grounds. While some people photographed it through a chain link fence, I do not think that view does the house visual justice.

My favorite image is of the circular wall surrounding the swimming pool at the Norman Lykes House. I am also including an overall picture of the house to give the photo some context a close-up view through one of the portholes:

Norman Lykes House

Lykes 1 LR

Lykes LR 1

I enjoyed photographing the approach to the Grady Gammage Auditorium on the pedestrian ramps from the parking lot:

Grady Gammage

This note by Wright is at the entrance to the Carlson House:

Carlson House

The Harold Price House has wonderful doors designed by Eugene Masselink. You get a hint of the design in the second photo:

 Harold Price LR 3

Harold Price LR 1

Harold Price House Harold Price House

The First Christian Church was adapted from a design of Wright’s by Taliesin Associated Architects. This is the view looking into the jewel-like middle of the ceiling with an 80-200mm lens:

First Christian LR

The Boomer House has dramatic roof lines. Again, there is an overall photo of the house for context:

Boomer 2 LR Boomer LR

Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer’s house, adapted from the Jester House plans, has circular rooms, including the living room:

Taliesin West

And now some of my visual impressions of Taliesin West:

Taliesin West

Then, the ceiling in the private dining area by the living room:

Taliesin West

Taliesin WestTaliesin West

Two window reflections:

 Taliesin West

Taliesin West

The use of native rock is legendary:

Taliesin West

Taliesin West

Taliesin West

There is a wonderful round gate into Mrs. Wright’s garden:Taliesin WestTaliesin West Taliesin West  Taliesin West

Taliesin West

Tafel House Saved From Demolition

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Wind Point (Racine), Wisconsin

Edgar Tafel’s Carl and Marie Albert House is officially saved from the threat of demolition, capping an almost two-year legal case.

Carl Marie AlbertCarl Marie Albert

The Carl and Marie Albert House, Monday November 10, 2014

The condition of the stone house, designed ca. 1949, deteriorated significantly after homeowner Joan Schulz left the house more than five years ago to care for a relative. Dishes were reportedly left in the sink. The roof leaked, and the abandoned house was filled with mold. The Village of Wind Point, north of Racine, posted a sign declaring the house uninhabitable, and sought a raze order.

The house, at the intersection of Four Mile Road and N. Main Street, is at a busy corner, and was an eyesore. Although Schulz and her sons were willing to rebuild the house, the village argued that because the cost of repairs exceeded the then-value of the house, it should be torn down.

Friday village attorney Ed Bruner said that while he was frustrated with the slow progress of repairs, the village would no longer seek a raze order. “Yes, if I wanted to be punitive, but the house has come along enough. We would like it completed. It is frustrating to not see anything going forward. Every village meeting I am asked for update.”

Carl Albert Nov 7 14

Village of Wind Point Attorney Ed Bruner, left, and Peter Ludwig, the Schulz’ attorney, confer before the court hearing. 

Bruner and Judge Faye Flancher pointed out that Schulz’ son, Linden Schulz, has been overseeing the repairs rather than Larry Ruka. Judge John Jude, who oversaw the case until the county’s judicial rotation in August, had appointed Ruka as construction manager. Ruka has not been on site since April.

Carl Albert Nov 7 14

Linden Schulz, left, listens as construction manager Larry Ruka addresses the court during the hearing

The Schulz’ attorney, Peter Ludwig, said that the house is “next in queue” for the electrician. Once he finishes his work, plumbing fixtures can be reinstalled and insulation and drywalling will be done.

The house was scheduled for completion in September at a hearing in the spring. Judge Flancher set the case for review February 6. “You can’t push them but I can. If there is no other progress, I will consider fines, daily, as an impetus to get this done. When we come back in three months we will be at the two year mark. It is unconscionably long given schedule Judge Jude gave. I expect the home to be completed in 90 days. It sounds like it can be done.”

Carl Albert Nov 7 14

Joan Schulz, left, Ludwig, Linden Schulz, and Larry Ruka talk after the hearing.

Fall photo shoot at Penwern

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Penwern

Penwern

Shooting at Penwern today – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones house and estate on Delavan Lake (Wisconsin). Usually one wants shadows to help define lines but today it worked out well to have even lighting. There are so many wonderful layers to the house, so many things going on in Wright’s head as he works to define his design vocabulary.

Penwern Penwern Penwern Penwern Penwern

The estate (house, gate lodge, boathouse, and stable) were designed 1900-1903. His designs in 1900 began to be in what is commonly known as his Prairie-style homes. While he designed some Prairie-style before Penwern, this design cannot be classified that way. His five Delavan Lake cottages were originally all stained brown. Sue and John Major, the stewards of Penwern since 1994, announced a wonderful website this fall: www.penwern.com  There are many more photos and more information about Penwern there.

Penwern

Penwern LoRes

Van Bergen House on the Move

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Van Bergen House Move

The James Irving House, designed by noted Prairie-style architect John S. Van Bergen in 1928, is moved in three sections from 1318 Isabella Street in Wilmette, Illinois Friday October 10, 2014. The first section moved includes the living room and dining of the house. The house was bought by Christopher Enck to stave it from demolition after Landmarks Illinois brought attention to the plight of the house. Lisa Di Chiera, Director of Advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, left, and Enck photograph the move:

Van Bergen House Move

Van Bergen worked for Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909, before Wright left his Oak Park studio to work in Europe for two years. The historic house is being temporarily stored in the parking lot of a future Whole Foods store nearby, until its permanent site in Evanston is ready. A cottage attributed to Wright and Rudolph Schindler, said to be a temporary residence for Mr. Irving, once stood at the rear of the property. It is in storage off-site.

The move drew several dozen spectators:

Van Bergen House Move
Van Bergen House Move

SC Johnson vs. Sotheby’s suit settled

Photo and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Adm. Bldg. Furniture  Jun 2012 027a

SC Johnson filed a request Tuesday for discontinuation of its lawsuit against the Sotheby’s auction house and a California man filed in Federal Court in New York in December. The lawsuit was filed after a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed desk and desk chair from Wright’s SC Johnson Administration Building were listed for sale by Sotheby’s. The items are back in Racine.

The company released this statement late Tuesday in reaction to the court filing, “We’re pleased with the settlement outcome. Frank Lloyd Wright designed furniture is an important part of our company’s legacy. The furniture was designed in 1938-39 as part of Wright’s vision for the Administration building. We are happy that chair and desk have been returned to SCJ and our legacy has remained intact.“

Wingspread Tours Added to SCJ Tour Program

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

Wingspread fplace

Wingspread aerials 2009

For many years visitors to the SC Johnson Administration Building have asked how they can tour the Research Tower (added to the tour program this past May) and Wingspread (where tours had to be arranged separately, and dependent on the conference schedule).

Today SC Johnson announces that it is adding Wingspread to its tour program.

Wingspread was designed for company president H.F. Johnson Jr. in 1937, a year after the Administration Building. His grandson, company Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson, describes the Wright buildings as “great architectural masterpieces…we feel a great responsibility to share his incredible work with the world.” He continues, “For me, these structures are so much more than just buildings; they are a constant reminder of some of the bold choices my grandfather made.”

Wingspread became home to the Johnson Foundation around 1959. National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the International Court of Justice all grew out of what were often known as “Wingspread conferences.”

Some of my favorite photos show the afternoon sun coming through the clerestory windows in the Great Room.

Wingspread

Wingspread fplace 2

Clerestory Sun 003

Reservations can be made at www.scjohnson.com/visit or by calling 262-260-2154.

(If this link does not connect correctly, due to a software problem, please copy and paste it into your browser)

Wingspread aerials 2009

 

Magnificent Penwern

"Penwern," Frank Lloyd Wright's Fred B. Jones House (1900) is framed through the entrance to the boathouse on Delavan Lake. (c) Mark Hertzberg

“Penwern,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones House (1900) is framed through the entrance to the boathouse on Delavan Lake. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones summer cottage, boathouse, gate lodge, and stable (1900-1903), are pleased to announce the launch of a website for the estate. The url is www.penwern.com

The Majors have commissioned me to write a book for them about Jones and Penwern. It is an exciting challenge because we have been unable to find any extant letters between Messrs. Jones, Wright, and/or Henry Wallis, who was the developer who apparently led Jones and three other Chicago-based Delavan Lake clients to Mr. Wright.

I was also asked by At the Lake magazine to write about Mr. Wright’s work on Delavan Lake. The article was published this week. There is a link to it on the website. The article is footnoted, because I want to verify every assertion about Penwern, rather than just accept what has been written about it before. I have found a number of misconceptions about Penwern, including the the idea that Penwern means “great house” in Gaelic. It is Welsh or Cornish, and does not mean “great house” (you’ll have to read the article and footnotes to learn more!).

As I invite you to go to the new website, which has a rich gallery of historic and contemporary photos of the estate, I leave you with a photo of Mr. Jones and Dora Mortimer, a friend or his housekeeper (another mystery we are trying to unravel!) on their around the world trip in 1924.

Pyramids