Happy Birthday, Mr. Wright

Photos © Mark Hertzberg

There is a small gathering to mark Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday (June 8)  at Taliesin this evening, in lieu of the big celebrations of pre-pandemic years. My wife and I have been privileged to have been invited by Minerva Montooth to those lively evenings. We stopped to see Minerva Friday on our way to Minnesota. I honor Wright’s birthday this year with a photo taken yesterday of Minerva’s smile and the seemingly ever-present gleam in her eyes.

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Thank you, Minerva, for yours and Charles’s friendship, and for all you do to keep Wright’s legacy – Mr. Wright to you and the Taliesin family – alive for the World of Wright. You are always stylish when we see you, with a lovely scarf! We love you!

Hardy House: Photo Proof Positive

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Several features of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine have been the subject of speculation for years because of the dearth of historic photos. Three newly discovered 1908 photos of the house, which was completed in 1906, end the speculation.

The first of the 1908 photos, showing the Main Street side of the house, may have been taken on Flag Day or on Independence Day:

LR 1908 Hardy Main.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

 

We can now definitively answer questions about the two front gates to the house, front plantings, the seven front hall windows, the south first floor bedroom windows (on our right in the photo above), the original dining room windows, and the rear gutter and downspouts.

Many people contributed to our getting the new photos and to understanding them. They are credited at the end of this article.

Until we got the new photos, the only clear vintage photograph of the house we had was this one from the Wright archives, evidently taken as the house was nearing completion in 1906:

Terrace 0506.004 raw.jpg© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

I was sent this 1906 “real photo postcard” below by Patrick Mahoney in 2018:

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The Gates: This 1906 photograph, taken around the time Hardy moved into his new home, is regrettably not clear enough to let us examine the windows, but we can now affirm that the gates were stucco. Until we got the 1908 photos, Mahoney and I thought we were looking at the stucco walls inside the gates rather than the gates themselves.

By the time that Henry-Russell Hitchcock photographed the house in the late 1930s or early 1940s for his book In the Nature of Materials, there were wood panels on the gates:

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The wood panels are also evident in photos that Anne Sporer Ruetz took in the early 1940s when she was growing up in the house (her parents were Hardy’s second stewards, from 1938 – 1947). You will see her photos further down in this article. The gates seem to have insets on which there could have been stucco panels. Did the stucco panels prove to be too heavy?

The gates were removed by the third stewards of the house (the Archer family, 1947 – 1957). The late Gene Szymczak, who became the seventh steward of the house in 2012 extensively rehabilitated the house, which needed major work. He also commissioned new gates for the house. He elected to use Wright’s first design, gates with diamonds atop the gates:

Drawing Main Street.jpg© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Plantings: Marion Mahony’s elevation drawing of the Main Street side of the house shows plantings below the front hall windows. Original to the house, they are long gone, as are the climbing plants:

LR Crop 1908 Hardy Main.jpg © 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

Front Hall Windows: There has been speculation about the original design of the seven windows between the two front doors. The 1908 photograph and Anne’s affirm that the windows in the house when Szymczak bought 1319 Main Street in 2012 were original, but they did not conform to the only Wright drawing we have of them. The windows were badly deteriorated, below, and were replaced with new ones by Szymczak:

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Wright’s drawing, below, is shown in the correct orientation. The text block was positioned as if the drawing is to be viewed as a horizontal sheet, rather than vertical, says my friend Bob Hartmann. At the upper left we see the front hall window design. The five-panel living room windows are at right. Bottom center are the bedroom windows:

image004.jpg © 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Robert Hartmann, an architectural designer in Racine, has been of invaluable help to me in all my Wright projects, helping me navigate design territory unfamiliar to me. He studied the drawing and photographs closely and observes: “The windows that we see in these photographs appear to be the same windows that were in the house when Gene [Szymczak] bought it. But, they are different than the window design that Wright put on paper. Wright’s design was symmetrical with less elements. His design (on paper) for the hall windows referred to the symmetry and simplicity of the living/dining and upper bedroom windows.

“However, the hall windows that we see in these photos are most likely original to the house. It is not unusual to see a design modification occur during construction.”

Bedroom Windows, Living Room windows: These are the second and third photos from the 1908 collection. You will see the original photos and my enlargements of them. The south bedroom windows are to the left and the two-story living room windows center. Pull down shades are evident on the windows. Anne told me that her parents removed the original living room windows because they leaked badly. They have been clear glass in recent memory. We had a hint of their design from the 1906 construction photo, but now we can clearly see Wright’s original leaded glass living room windows:

LR 1908 Hardy HIll.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

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Hartmann comments first on the first floor bedroom windows: “It looks like it is just clear glass in the bedroom windows.  If it were art glass we would be able to see some traces of the pattern. The key is in the window on the east side that is visible in the photo. Bright light is coming through the window and yet we do not pick up any representation of the art glass pattern. There is a curtain drawn to south side of the window in the foreground. It is pulled back to the window casing  and of a medium grey value. If the art glass were present it would stand out in contrast against the curtain. But, the photo is not in perfect focus so there is a percentage of doubt.”

LR 1908 Hardy Side.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

LR 1908 Hardy Side Crop.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

Gutter and downspouts: Many people have questioned me about the gutter and downspout on the rear (lake side) of the house. The historic photos show they are original or hew to the original design.

Anne was given a Brownie box camera, likely for Christmas, when she was around 10 years old (the same age I was when I was given my first Kodak Brownie camera!). “Not too many of my friends had a camera but I just thought it fun to take and get the pictures. It would take about a week to get them developed [at Red Cross Drug, 13th and Villa streets], hard to wait.” Her snapshots of her friends show us the windows, the gates, and what may be a coal chute in front of the house (there is no evidence of it anymore).

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Tag 2.jpgAnne is at left in this photo.

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I must credit the people who contributed to our being able to better understand how the house was built:

Mike Lilek, the force behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block in Milwaukee, alerted me April 16 to a 1908 photo album with photos of the Hardy House and one of the Mitchell House for sale on eBay (Mitchell is grist for a later separate article). He pointed to the 45 or 46-star flag (some of the stars are obscured). The former was in use from 1904 – 1908, the latter from 1908 – 1912. The album is dated 1908.

-Lilek’s email was followed by an alert from Racine historian Gerald Karwowski.

– I notified the stewards of the Hardy House as well as Eric O’Malley of the Organic Architecture and Design Archives (OA+D). OA+D entered the bidding to ensure that the photographs had a safe new repository. They successfully acquired the photos and quickly shared high resolution copies with the Hardy House stewards, with Hartmann, and with me.

I urge you to explore OA+D’s website, and to subscribe to their Journal:

https://www.oadarchives.com

I thank Anne Sporer Ruetz for her friendship and eagerness to share her memories of what she has called her “dream house.”

I also thank architect Patrick Mahoney of Buffalo, another friend and well known Wright Scholar, for the July 1906 “real photo postcard” he sent me in 2018.

    – 30 –

 

Wright Crosses the Pacific Again, in 2021

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Frank Lloyd Wright first crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1905 to visit Japan. Figuratively speaking, Wright just made another crossing with the republication in May 2021 in Mandarin of two Wright books in one “omnibus edition” by the Beijing-based China Architecture Publishing & Media Co., formerly known as the China Architecture and Building Press. The books are Grant Hildebrand’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House (University of Washington Press, 2007) and my Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower (Pomegranate, 2010). The translated title of the omnibus edition is Organic Architecture Landmarks of Frank Lloyd Wright: SC Johnson Research Tower, Palmer House.

This is a color proof of the handsome cover:

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This exciting news (for me, as an author, as well as for anyone looking for unique ways to add to their Wright libraries) has been four years in the making.  Shuai Qi, an executive editor with the publisher, first broached the subject with me and with copyright holders of other potential books to include in the omnibus edition in April 2017. The four years of emails that ensued, concerning publishing rights, licensing agreements, contract language, payment arrangements, and myriad other details sometimes dragged out because of the 13-hour time difference between Racine and Beijing.

Prof. Yang Peng, a lecturer in Modern 20th Century Architecture at Renmin University of China School of Arts, translated the two books into Mandarin. He commented in an email, “FLLW still is and will be a great force to overcome the cultural shortsightedness.

“It is my privilege to make some contribution to let more Chinese readers know his works and ideas.”

7D5A00374CF8A71124B45DAA93A_51C3D4DE_A794.jpgProf. Peng

I asked Shuai Qi to tell me more about the interest about Wright in China. I knew of  of the great interest in Wright’s work in Japan, but nothing about his draw in China.

“Actually, Wright himself as a great architect is well known and some of his famous works is popular with Chinese people. Many books concerning Wright has been introduced from abroad and published here in China. In addition, the translator, also my friend, Prof. Yang Peng, is a true Wright fan. He has made a lot of research on Wright and even translated Wright’s Autobiography into Chinese.
“Many people in China know Wright’s famous works but few people know his works such as SC Johnson Research Tower and Palmer House. This is why we plan to introduce and publish this book into China. We think it can attract even more people’s attention and encourage them to explore more about this great architect. The target audience can be university and college students, architects, designers, and scholars, etc.”
During the four years of emails – 340 related messages are in my files – I suggested to Shuai Qi (not entirely facetiously!) that the publisher bring me to China to give my Wright lectures, including the one about the Research Tower. Not so unreasonable, is that maybe I will be able to do some Zoom lectures, now that they have become part of our “new normal.”
Now, for Stan Ecklund, Randy Henning, and all the others interested in buying the book, it is not yet on their website, but it can be ordered by emailing Li Juan by at:
2427634479@2427634479@qq.com
In 2017 the price of the book in US dollars was just under $4. I believe it is around $12 now, but that is exclusive of mailing costs, of course. If you all order enough copies the initial printing of 3,000 copies will sell out and I will get another royalty check when the second printing starts. So, you know what to do!
I apologize for the formatting problem that refuses to put the proper spacing between the last few paragraphs.

A New Take on Wright’s Work, Part Two

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

A week ago I posted a review of Joseph Siry’s new book, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890-1970. The review was Wright-specific, for this website’s audience. It merits an addendum. I confess to having written it after finishing the Wright section, and before I finished the book, to meet a self-imposed deadline.

I now need to share a relevant part of the book’s final chapter, [Louis I.] Kahn’s Architecture and Air-Conditioning to the 1970s. The context is a discussion of Kahn’s Alfred Newman Richards Medical Research Building at the University of Pennsylvania, 1957-1960.

Part of Kahn’s inspiration for the laboratory tower came from Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower, which was extensively published upon its completion in 1950 and which Kahn visited in 1959. He said of it: “The Tower was done with love and I should say it is architecture…Architecture should start a new chain of reactions. It shouldn’t just exist for itself; it should throw out sparks to others. That is really the judgment of a piece of art, that power. If the Tower has this power to throw out sparks, to make you want to build one of the things, then I believe it functions.”

Indeed, that is quite a tribute to Wright’s landmark building in Racine, even though the company began to outgrow the facility by 1957, and moved out of it just 30 years after it opened.

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To view a photo of the Richards Medical Research Building:

https://www.facilities.upenn.edu/maps/locations/richards-medical-research-laboratories

The mechanical systems are in the towers you see in the photograph.

A New Take on Wright’s Work

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Most of the hundreds of thousands of words written about Frank Lloyd Wright’s work are about his design aesthetic, his life, or are histories of the homes and public buildings he designed. A new book by Joseph M. Siry offers a new analysis of his work. Siry puts the mechanical engineering of four of Wright’s landmark buildings – the Larkin Building, the SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower, and the Rogers Lacy Hotel – in a broader context of American architecture. 

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Siry, who teaches art history at Wesleyan University, has just published his fifth book, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890-1970  (University Park: The Penn State University Press;, 2021). His previous Wright books are Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012) and Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture for Liberal Religion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

BC 2015 WSA Siry 006.jpgSiry, left, accepts a Wright Spirit Award from Scott Perkins and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2015.

The Larkin Building in Buffalo (1903) was one of the nation’s first air conditioned buildings. Wright, of course, eschewed traditional design. One of the building’s signature features was its large central atrium work space. Wright put the building’s mechanical systems in the four corner stair towers and in four adjacent towers. Russell Sturgis, a contemporary critic, was flummoxed by the design. He wrote in a 1906 article in the Architectural Record wondering why there were “no chimneys, giving an opportunity for an agreeable breaking of the masonry into the sky and the sky into the masonry?” 

The SC Johnson Administration Building was designed in 1936. Air conditioning had already proven to be economically beneficial in a variety of factories – including at the Ford Motor Company – in improving efficiency not only in terms of workers’ comfort and morale, but also in processes where precise temperature and humidity controls were vital in machining and for ink-drying in printing. A growing number of hotels, offices, retail shops, and movie theaters were incorporating the new technology which was also displayed throughout the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. An unanticipated benefit was that hay fever sufferers no longer felt the need to call in sick when working in air conditioning (including Congressmen and U.S. senators when the U.S. Capitol was air conditioned in the late 1930s). Later, the economic growth of the South after World War II was spurred by companies’ abilities to air condition their factories, hotels, and stores.

Wright called the Larkin Building “the male sire of its feminine offspring,” the SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, designed in 1936. H. F. Johnson Jr. was the company president. He famously gave workers the day off if it were 90 degrees or warmer outside. Johnson charged both J. Mandor Matson, his first architect, and Wright with designing what was then commonly called a “windowless” office building.

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The Administration Building opened in April 1939, concurrent with the opening of the New York’s World’s Fair. An article in LIFE magazine previewing the fair noted that while it was certainly wonderful, people should travel to Racine to see the streamlined new SC Johnson office building if they wanted to glimpse the future. The Research Tower, designed in 1943/1944 and constructed between 1947 and 1950, was the coda to Wright’s office building. The mechanicals in the former are in the “nostril” atop the tap root tower, just as they were in the two “nostrils” (Wright’s term) atop the Administration Building. 

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LR Great Workroom 061.jpgVentilation grills are visible on the face of the mezzanine of the Great Workroom.

LR Bud Nelson 014a.jpgThe Tower’s exhaust plenums are the two kidney shapes.

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LR Tower 5.1.14 020.jpgCeiling ventilation in the Research Tower was built into ceiling light fixtures.

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The Rogers Lacy Hotel in Dallas (1946) was not realized because Lacy died in December 1947. I had little awareness of Wright when I was in high school (1964-1968) but one of my classmates was Lacy’s grandson. My classmate’s father was one of the architects of the Houston Astrodome, the world’s first air conditioned stadium, which opened in 1965.

Siry concludes, “In the Johnson buildings, Wright reinvented the windowless type, creating workspaces that were better illuminated and apparently more open to the outdoors than many windowed buildings. His client, Johnson, had provided the impetus to devise optimal air-conditioned interiors. But Wright reinterpreted that aim to create unprecedentedly inventive architecture, an his integration of mechanical systems into his aesthetic inspired such later modernists as Louis Kahn.”

Siry’s book was an outgrowth of the section of his 2009 course on contemporary world architecture focusing on sustainability and energy conservation. “It gradually was clear that HVAC systems had a vast history in relation to modern architecture that had only been touched on, but those systems had been a huge factor in buildings’ energy demands. So I thought it would be useful to try to lay out the history of air-conditioning from its origins through into the 1970s, before energy consciousness took hold in architecture.” He is now focusing on developments since the early 1970s, “to trace the history of conservation methods and thinking about sustainability.” The new book took nine years of research and writing. There is no timeline for a succeeding volume.

If readers burst out of their Wright bubble, they will find the book as a whole is captivating. I wrote Siry that as a layperson (and someone who did miserably in science classes) I never thought I would be entranced by a book about air conditioning. But I was. The book can be ordered from the publisher or through your favorite local bookshop. I urge people to support local book shops and book publishers, rather then reflexively order from you know where.

https://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08694-1.html

Siry is Professor Art History and the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  

Addendum on April 29:  Radiant floor heating was used in the Administration Building. Wright also used it in Wingspread, the home he designed for Johnson in 1937. Karen Johnson Boyd, H.F.’s daughter, who grew up in Wingspread, told me that it was unpredictable whether one might freeze or burn their toes on the floor in the morning. When she and her then-husband Willard Keland commissioned Wright to build the Keland House in 1954, one of the conditions was that Wright let a radiant floor heating expert from Indiana handle that aspect of the job, she said. He agreed to do so.

-30-

 

Revisiting Wingspread, Cameras in Hand

Photos © Mark Hertzberg

One of the joys I have in visiting buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, cameras in hand, is noticing new details, no matter how many times I have been at a particular site. Sometimes it is a question of different lighting at a different time of day from my last visit, other times the photo comes from wondering why I had not noticed something before.

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I had the pleasure of being a presenter at a dinner at Wingspread last Saturday to benefit RAM, the Racine Art Museum. It was the first social event held there since the start of the pandemic. I was there to give my “Wright in Racine” presentation, but I got there early enough to meet Marcus White the new (a year ago) president of The Johnson Foundation, and wander around looking for pictures. We gravitated first to the famous “crow’s nest” with its spiraling metal staircase. It is a feature that delighted H.F. Johnson Jr.’s children Karen and Sam when they moved into the house in the late 1930s.

I have climbed the crow’s nest many times, but tended to take pictures at the top, never looking at the stairs themselves. Last Saturday I was mesmerized by the stairs:

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LR Wingspread 4.17.21 022.jpgMarcus White turned the tables on me and took pictures of me at work.

I found new things to photograph upstairs on, and from the second floor, as well:

LR Wingspread 4.17.21 038.jpgOne of the first floor fireplaces is framed by the wood of the balcony

LR Wingspread 4.17.21 020.jpgLate afternoon sun skims across the floor outside the master bedroom.

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This mother is sitting in a planter off the second floor. Karen Johnson Boyd once saw a photo I had taken of a goose looking into her father’s bedroom, and said H.F. would have liked that sight. Below: the sun highlights an Administration Building desk chair and a desk lamp in Karen’s bedroom:

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When I was writing my “Wright in Racine” book, Karen told me that it was sometimes a challenge sneaking past her father’s bedroom when she wanted to go out at night. One of the guests at the dinner told us that her father dated Karen in high school. One night they wanted to go to a party. He found a ladder in the carport, raised it against the cantilevered balcony outside her bedroom, and off they went to the party. That is the cantilevered balcony Karen had asked Wright for, like the one off Wright’s old office at Taliesin (the better known “birdwalk” balcony dates to the 1950s). Wright had told Karen that one day she would have suitors standing under the balcony, wooing her. Indeed!

LR Wingspread 4.17.21 049.jpgHad I not been directed to a parking area other than the one I thought I should go to, I would not have seen the sun highlight the crow’s nest when I returned to my car. Note to Marcus…this is why that 300mm lens is in my trunk, ready for action.

The other speaker at the dinner was Bruce Pepich, executive director of RAM. He gave an illuminating talk about the work of Frances Myers, a Racine native, who was a distinguished print maker. Karen Johnson Boyd commissioned a series of prints of Wright-designed buildings. You can see them, and read about them, here:

https://racineartmuseumstore.org/products/frances-myers-frank-lloyd-prints

 

 

Taliesin West, Revisited

Photos © Mark Hertzberg 2021

Readers of “The Wright Attitude” Facebook group were challenged to post their favorite photographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West earlier this year. I posted some of the photographs I took in October 2014 during the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference.

I have visited Taliesin in Spring Green countless times, but this was only my second visit to “T-West,” the first in 1992 before I became immersed in the World of Wright. I chose more abstract photos to post during the challenge rather than literal photos of buildings and the spaces therein. My personal Wright photo challenge is to find new photos on each visit. What will I see on my next visit to Scottsdale?

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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-