Penwern: Wright Greenhouse Rebuild


Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings:  © 2018 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)

A little-known, long-gone design by Frank Lloyd Wright will be rebuilt beginning in October.

LR Gatehouse Greenhouse Vintage 1.jpgCourtesy of John Hime

Fred B. Jones was passionate about growing roses, so Frank Lloyd Wright designed a greenhouse for him in 1903 as part of the gate lodge at Penwern, Jones’ summer cottage and estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin. The structure was on the north side of the gate lodge, between the water tower and a boulder wall. At an unknown date Jones had a second, non-Wright greenhouse built adjacent to the west side of the gate lodge.

There are several extant drawings of the gate lodge that include portions of Wright’s greenhouse, including these three views:

LR Avery_FLW_4207_005.jpg

LR Avery_FLW_4207_003.jpg

LR Avery_FLW_4207_002.jpg

The only known photos of the Wright greenhouse are from about 1931. The photos are in an album we have courtesy of Betty Schacht, whose grandparents, Carl and Gerda Nelson, were caretakers of Penwern, and lived in the gate lodge. The greenhouse was picturesque enough to be the backdrop for several family photos.

Historic_Scan_10aa.jpgThe unidentified people in the historic photos are presumably relatives and family friends of Schacht’s grandparents. Jones is not in any of the photos.


Historic_Scan_13a.jpgSome of the upper windows have been opened, as seen in this photo.

The Wright greenhouse was apparently deteriorating when it was disassembled and replaced by a carport by a subsequent owner in the 1970s. Sue and John Major, who became stewards of most of Penwern in 1994 (and of the gate lodge in 2000), and who have worked tirelessly to restore the estate to Wright’s vision, had the carport removed.

LR Canty Carport removal.jpgThe carport is removed after the Majors acquired the gate lodge in 2000. Photo courtesy of Bill Orkild.

The reconstruction of the greenhouse will be done by Bill Orkild of Copenhagen Construction, the Majors’ contractor. He will be guided by Wright’s plans and the historic photos. Orkild has worked on many projects at Penwern, perhaps most significantly in 2005 rebuilding the Wright-designed boathouse which had been destroyed in an arson fire in 1978. He had just a single sheet of Wright’s drawings to work from.

The foundation of the greenhouse was uncovered several months ago. Several irrigation pipes are evident in the footprint of the structure:

LR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 001.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 005.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 007.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 008.jpg

LR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 002.jpg

Until the foundation was uncovered the only physical evidence of the greenhouse were lines of the roof visible in a door to the greenhouse at the base of the water tower and in the boulder wall opposite:

LR Greenhouse 005.jpg

LR Greenhouse 007.jpg

Because the greenhouse was part of the gate lodge it has never been considered a separate Wright building, so it never merited its own Wright project number. Still, it is  significant and the World of Wright should welcome its reconstruction. The project underscores, yet again, why Sue and John Major were honored with a Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2005. I leave you with an abstract photo I took of the main house at Penwern through one of the gate lodge windows last week, after I photographed the foundation of the greenhouse:

Penwern GL Window 001.jpg



3 thoughts on “Penwern: Wright Greenhouse Rebuild

  1. This is wonderful news. I got copies of the plans for the greenhouse for inspiration a while back when I was planning my own. I have visited Penwern once and driven by the gate house a few times and find it all incredible. The gatehouse and stables are marvelous and boat house overwhelming. House restorations are great, but restoration or rebuilding of the outbuildings tells the whole story. I have been fascinated by these secondary structures for some time. Garages, gatehouses, stables, potting sheds, boathouses, garden plans, etc. often are lost to time; some planned but never built. They are an important part of the overall design of many homes. What these owners have done, here, is to be applauded over and over again. Nice encore.

  2. Always wonderful to see devoted homeowners, and custodians doing the “Wright” thing in preserving and restoring something beautiful and useful. Thank you to the new owners for taking on the responsibility of bringing new life to one of Mr. Wright’s creations.
    Ron Haynes
    Taliesin Fellow ‘87
    Tampa, Fl

  3. For some reason this comment by Marty Loppnow will not post: Hi Mark, I watch in interest as the Penwern greenhouse is reconstructed. I own Waukesha Floral and Greenhouse and we had a vintage 1907 greenhouse built by Lord and Burnham. This is the Cadillac of greenhouse systems for the time. We still have the 1935 version of that greenhouse in operation. As I look at the pictures a few things come to mind. The pipes going into the ground may have been hot water heat. Greenhouses of this era heated in this fashion, especially rose houses. Sometimes, as in our case we had heat pipes underground in the floor beds and hanging from the underside of the greenhouse benches to get the heat near the crop. The wood struts for the roof may have been made of Cypress wood. Our greenhouse was all cypress wood because it holds up to high humidity and is opposed to rot. The struts were painted with a linseed oil based white paint. The struts would have been routed out to accept the sheets of glass that were laid in a bed of putty and then glaziers points were added to stabilize the pieces. The glass was laid up shingle style to overlap for water run off. Just a few observations. Penwern is one of my favorite Wright buildings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s