Contemporary photos and text © Mark Hertzberg (2019)
Frank Lloyd Wright Drawings: © 2019 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)
2019 Reconstruction drawings © Russell J. DePietro, Architect/ DePietro Design Associates
The gate lodge at Penwern, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate on Delavan Lake in Wisconsin (1903) was significantly altered in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the changes were the loss of the gate lodge greenhouse, which though commercially built, was shown on Wright’s drawings, and about half of the semi-circular boulder wall which formed the east perimeter of the gate lodge property, past the greenhouse and gate lodge water tower.
The greenhouse is shown at left, between the gate lodge water tower and the semi-circular boulder wall. Photo courtesy of John Hime. The two historic photos below are thought to have been taken in 1935, two years after Jones died, while the estate was still in probate. They are courtesy of Betty Schacht, whose grandparents were the caretakers of Penwern at the time.
The greenhouse had deteriorated significantly by the 1970 when it was replaced by a carport. The Majors had the carport removed after acquiring the gate lodge in 2001 (they had bought the rest of the estate in 1994). Photo courtesy of Bill Orkild.
Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994, are taking another step in the restoration of the estate this fall, having commissioned Bill Orkild of Copenhagen Construction to reconstruct both the greenhouse and the wall. Orkild is working from drawings prepared by architect Russell J. DePietro of DePietro Design Associates in Delavan. DePietro was able to study Wright’s extant drawings:
DePietro is no stranger to restoring and reconstructing Wright’s work, having worked with the Majors since their first project at Penwern, the removal of Jones’s two non-Wright (and unsightly) 1909/10 additions to the main house. He says, “I feel it’s an honor to work on a Frank Lloyd Wright restoration. I was very fortunate and I am forever thankful to the Majors for reaching out to me to help with the restoration, starting with the house and tearing off the additions to it.” DePietro has played a major role in every project at Penwern since then, including making the main house structurally sound, restoring the stable, rebuilding the boathouse from Wright’s plans in 2005 (it was destroyed in an arson fire in 1978), and in 2015 building new side porches that were in keeping with Wright’s plans for the main house.
DePietro, a native of upstate New York, and an architectural graduate of the University of Illinois, opened his office in 1985. But he was no stranger to Wright’s work. “I’ve studied most of the Master Architects’ during my career and became a Frank Lloyd Wright fan years ago at the age of 17 when my uncle took me to New York City to tour the Guggenheim Museum. I’ve explored Taliesin in Spring Green, the Dana House in Springfield, Illinois, the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, his Oak Park studio, the Oak Park, Illinois homes, Unity Temple and I’ve studied a number of
his other works over the years. I’m planning on touring Taliesin West in Scottsdale this coming January/ February 2020.”
Architectural designer Robert Hartmann was the first to notice the significance of half the boulder wall missing when he carefully studied Wright’s plans in 2017. He pointed out that the lines (right, in the drawing below) echo the curves and arches that are prevalent in the main house and the boathouse.
Hartmann, left, and Orkild compare Wright’s drawings to buildings at Penwern.
It is thought that the boulder wall was partially demolished after the property was subdivided in 1989 and a driveway was built for the new adjoining home.
The remaining original boulders (sometimes referred to as “bowlders” on Wright’s drawings, were marked and will be replaced whenever possible along the new wall structure.
Jones was passionate about growing roses in his greenhouse but the new greenhouse will be used as an entertainment space, surrounded by roses on the outside patio. It is expected that the work will be completed by late fall.
Upcoming Penwern illustrated talks:
Tuesday August 20, 2 p.m., Geneva Lake Museum in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Thursday September 12, Cliff Dwellers Club, 200 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, co-sponsored by The Cliff Dwellers, the Society of Architectural Historians, Friends of Downtown, and AIA Chicago.
Cocktails: Cash bar opens at 4:30 p.m. Free Program: Begins 6:15 p.m. Dinner: Available after the program, a la carte. Reservations for dinner are requested: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-922-8080. Discount parking is available after 4:00 at the garage located at 17 E. Adams – enter on Adams between Wabash and State. Ask for a discount coupon at the check-in desk.