Penwern: The Next Chapter

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

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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.

Gate Lodge 003.jpgThe 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.

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Canty Carport removal.jpgThe 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:

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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.

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LR Orkild hat and Hartmann 001.jpgHartmann, left, and Orkild compare Wright’s drawings to buildings at Penwern.

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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.

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Penwern Greenhouse and Wall 8.7.19 008.jpgThe 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.

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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: reservations@cliff-chicago.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.

 

 

Spring Green Restaurant – Historic Photos

(c) Mark Hertzberg, 2017, with all photos (c) Robert Hartmann, 2017

Robert Hartmann’s passions when he was growing up included Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and photography. The result? Thirty historic photos by him of the construction of Wright’s Spring Green Restaurant, the building now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. It houses the Taliesin Bookstore and Riverview Terrace Cafe. The building also serves as the starting point for all tours of Taliesin.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-3-.jpgA vintage color photo from winter, 1967, of the recently completed Spring Green Restaurant. Hartmann notes that the original location of the old Wisconsin River bridge abuttment can be seen in the upper left of the photo. The pavilion which is still wrapped in plastic sheets, right, originally served as the sales and marketing office of the Wisconsin River Development Corporation headed by Racine businessman Willard Keland.

The building overlooks the Wisconsin River. Wright first designed an auto showroom, restaurant and home for Glen and Ruth Richardson for the site in 1943. His next proposal for the site, ten years later, was for a bridge-like restaurant. Construction had started when Wright died in 1959. Taliesin Associated Architects completed his design and construction in 1967 as part of a Wisconsin River Development Corporation plan from the late Willard Keland (of Wright’s Keland House in Racine).

Hartmann became interested in Wright’s work when he was just eight years old and saw Wright’s newly completed SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine in 1950. Six years later he borrowed his father’s Argus model C-3 35mm camera (which he notes, he never returned). He was working on his Master’s degree in Environmental Design at the University of Wisconsin in 1967. It was an opportunity for Hartmann to follow the progress of the construction of a Wright design. He thought, “It appeared that Wright’s Broadacre City was actually being built.”

An accomplished photographer, Hartmann often drove the half hour to Spring Green to document the construction in his compact gray Sunbeam Imp. He recalls, “Getting to The Spring Green Restaurant was as rewarding as reaching my destination. Driving west on Highway 14 took me through the wonderful small towns of Cross Plains, Black Earth, Mazomanie, Arena and Spring Green. These were the places that Wright had passed through so many times in his lifetime and have now become immortalized by way of mention in the many books and articles by and about Wright.”Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-4-1060899.jpgThis summer 1967 photo,with scaffolding still in place, captures The Spring Green restaurant as windows and exterior trim are nearing completion.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-5-5.jpgThis detail view shows the gable roof and original open terrace shortly after Wright’s building was completed. The open terrace on the right was later enclosed and covered with a flat roof by Taliesin Associated Architects, the successor firm to Frank Lloyd Wright.

The young graduate student – he was 25 –  carefully filed his three dozen color and black and white negatives and Polaroid instant photos of the construction, and moved onto a career as an architectural and industrial designer. He opened his own practice in Racine in 1980. The negatives would remain unprinted until this year.

Hartmann never lost his passion for Wright’s work. He is a former board member and past president of Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin (Wright in Wisconsin). This past spring Hartmann learned that Erik Flesch, director of development for Taliesin Preservation, Inc., was looking for ways to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the structure. Turning to the notebook with his negatives, Hartmann told Flesch about his archival photos. They arranged for 24 framed prints of the construction and an early renovation to be exhibited at the visitor center through the end of the year.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-2-22.jpgHartmann is a meticulous craftsman. Although he shot each photo in perhaps 1/125th of a second, he spent an estimated 1200 hours digitizing and making archival ink jet prints for the exhibition. The prints are 11″x14″ matted and framed to 16”x20”.

Spring Green Hartmann Flesch LR.jpgHartmann, left, and Flesch review the installation of Hartmann’s photos.

Lady Bird Johnson, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, attended the dedication on September 22, 1967. A free public celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication will be held Friday September 22 be from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. with limited food service and a cash bar. A centerpiece of the anniversary celebration is the on-going exhibit of Hartmann’s photos which he never printed until this year.