Taking a Fresh Look at Penwern

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Bill Orkild, the Wizard of Penwern, the magnificent estate that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900 – 1903, invited us to an open house a few weeks ago. The occasion was to show off the new / old gate lodge greenhouse constructed this year. It replicates the original one which was demolished in 1983. I give Orkild that monniker because he is the construction master of virtually every phase of Penwern’s rehabilitation since Sue and John Major became its stewards in 1994.

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/the-coda-to-penwerns-rehabilitation/penwern-greenhouse-6/

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The visit also challenged me to see Penwern with fresh eyes, six months after my last visit. Arches are one of of the design themes of the grounds…this photo of the 28′ arch which spans the front porch, facing the lake, was a new angle for me, even after dozens of visits to Penwern. I also looked at the dormers on the west side of the house differently, as we sat by the pool and enjoyed a picnic lunch:

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Now, onto the greenhouse! The structure is virtually identical to the commercially – built one which Wright included in his design. The new one is an entertainment venue, rather than a greenhouse for growing flowers (Jones loved growing roses). It is surrounded on the east side by a semi-circular boulder wall, another recreated feature of the estate. Bob Hartmann, an architectural archaelogical sleuth from Racine, noticed the wall on the plans and commented that half the wall was missing. Say no more to the Majors and Orkild, there is a full wall again!

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There are now flowers in a planter atop the north wall at the end of the greenhouse. Orkild speculates that the original wall and greenhouse may have failed for lack of a liner to keep water from the plants from seeping down and weakening the structures.

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Now, invitations in hand, let’s go into the greenhouse:

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The design on the windows leading to the new space is reprised on the corners of the counters in the food preparation area:

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One of Orkild’s great contributions to preserving Penwern’s history is the museum he is creating in the stable:

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The work at the gate lodge included the arduous task of scraping off concrete that had been added atop boulders on the walls of the gate lodge water tower as cracks developed over the last 115 years:

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Orkild found an unexpected artifact, a pipe, 12″ into this wall. The pipe is now in the museum. He theorizes that either a mason put his pipe down and forgot about it, or one of his co-workers, annoyed by the smoke, took the pipe, and ensured that it could not be found (or smoked) again.

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This oak table, below, is another recent addition to the museum. The piece of wood from an alder tree is signficant, because one of the possible meanings of “penwern” in the native Welsh is “at the head of the alder tree.”

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Orkild’s wry sense of humor shows in this new display:

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Wizards sometimes don’t show their faces. I offer only this wizard’s shadow as he stands by the stable gate explaining some of the work he has done:

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Recreating the greenhouse was a team effort, and the Majors credited all who had a hand in it with a plaque outside the new structure:

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The Coda to Penwern’s Rehabilitation

Text and greenhouse construction photos © Mark Hertzberg. Other photos courtesy of and © Emily Smith and Bill Orkild. Historic photos courtesy Betty Schacht, Sue and John Major and John Hime and ©  Frank Lloyd Wright gate lodge drawing: ©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

The final significant stage of the rehabilitation of Penwern is now complete.

Roses will bloom again this summer at the gate lodge greenhouse at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate – Penwern – on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin, perhaps for the first time since Jones’s death in 1933. Jones loved growing roses, so Wright included a commercially built greenhouse for him in his design for the gate lodge. The gate lodge and greenhouse were constructed in 1903, two years after the main house or “cottage.” The greenhouse was tucked between the north side of the gate lodge water tower and a boulder wall:

Avery_FLW_4207_007.jpg©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Avery_FLW_4207_005.jpg©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Jones added a second greenhouse on the west side of the gate lodge at an undetermined date.

Historic_Scan_08a.jpgThe caretakers’ family near the second greenhouse, ca. 1935, courtesy Betty Schacht

The original greenhouse had deteriorated so badly by the 1970s that Terry Robbins Canty, whose parents Burr and Peg Robbins were the second stewards of Penwern, had it torn down and replaced by a carport when she lived in the gate lodge.

Gatehouse Greenhouse Vintage 1.jpgJohn Hime Collection – date unknown

Gatehouse Int. Yard View 004.jpgMark Hertzberg – 2014

20200403_151540.jpgEmily Smith – April 2020

Penwern had been significantly altered by the time John and Sue Major became stewards of most of the estate in 1994. They immediately began what has become a decades-long quest to bring Penwern back to Jones’s and Wright’s vision. They acquired the last piece of the estate – the gate lodge – after Canty’s death in 2000. Canty had also replaced a dining room window overlooking the gate lodge patio with doors when she added a small TV room (right side of exterior photo of the gate lodge, below). The carport, and most of the other alterations to the gate lodge, were undone within the next few years.

Canty Greenhouse Carport .jpegBill Orkild

Canty Gatehouse Porch.jpegBill Orkild

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The space where the original greenhouse stood has been like a missing tooth on a jack o’ lantern for almost 50 years. Could it be replicated? The Majors are not daunted by challenges. “No” is not in their vocabulary when it comes to the rehabilitation of Penwern. Didn’t they remove the large unsightly 1909 and 1910 additions that Jones had put on the main house? Didn’t they successfully fight for permission to rebuild the boathouse which had been destroyed by an arson fire in 1978? Why shouldn’t they rebuild the greenhouse, too?

Although the greenhouse is the most dramatic new addition to the estate, the 2020 summer season will now be remembered for the realization of a number of other projects around the gate lodge as well:

  1. A new stucco chimney, like the original one, replaces the brick chimney that has been atop the structure for years

20200403_142730.jpgBill Orkild – April 2020

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2) The doors leading from the gate lodge dining room to the patio have been replaced by the original window, below right:

Gatehouse 207.jpgMark Hertzberg – 2013

20200311_135721.jpgBill Orkild – April 2020

3) And, finally, but not least, the original semicircular boulder wall east of the water tower has been reconstructed. Architectural designer Robert Hartmann, who had meticulously studied Wright’s drawings, realized that much of the wall was missing. The semicircular design was important because it echoes the trio of semicircular porches at the main house and the great arches at the house and the boathouse.

Avery_FLW_4207_002.jpg© 2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Orkild and Hartmann 001a.jpgHartmann, left, and Orkild look at Wright drawings – Mark Hertzberg -2017

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 026.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 035.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

20200406_085611.jpgEmily Smith – April 2020

One can easily surmise why the Majors undertook the greenhouse project, but let John Major tell us. “At one level, we rebuilt the greenhouse to complete the last piece of the original design. But, as we got into it, we realized that the greenhouse is a quintessential example of FLW design. Small becomes large; large becomes small; a huge space that minimally impacts the landscape around it. It’s to us, what FLW was all about. We’re expecting that people will be shocked. I know we are as it is coming together.” Shocked? “People were when we showed them the entry leading to the dining room for the first time. This will be more show.”

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 014.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 018.jpgTravis Orient places sklylight panels.  Mark Hertzberg – April 2020

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Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 025.jpgPaul Kenyon seals the panels. Mark Hertzberg – April 2020

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Emily Smith – April 2020

And what about the rest of the work at the gate lodge? “The dining room is now better balanced and the view of the lakeside of the gatehouse is much more balanced as it was intended to be. The doors were put in when the previous owner added a small TV room. When we removed the TV room, we put off replacing the doors.  Once we found the original window, we were ready to complete the work.

“The brick chimney is being replaced with a stucco chimney as the original drawings say it should be [indeed early historic photos show the stucco chimney]. The brick chimney was ugly. The stucco chimney will be much nicer.”

The greenhouse will be a place for the Majors to entertain, which is fitting, because entertaining friends is arguably Penwern’s historic raison d’être. It was important, first to Jones, and then to the subsequent stewards of the estate. A nearly full kitchen will be adjacent, inside the base of the water tower. The walled area will have a patio and roses will bloom there.

Design work for the greenhouse and surrounding boulder wall was by DePietro Design Associates. Bill Orkild, master of most of the work at Penwern since the Majors came to the lake in 1994, rebuilt the wall, did the dining room work, and supervised the other work. The greenhouse was built by Arcadia Glasshouse of Madison, Ohio.

Orkild, who knows the estate more intimately than probably anybody in its history, offers his perspective on the project. “The challenges of this project were no different than many of the projects at Penwern. It is always a challenge to weave together old and new, Wright’s vision and practical use. Hiding new technology from view was another significant obstacle. The physical challenge of outdoor work in the winter, wresting boulders in excess of 200 pounds, and wet clay clinging to boots was a daily battle.

“My greatest takeaway from the project was an overwhelming positive feeling I received from working with so many smart, strong and enthusiastic young people.  It was a pleasure to see there bright eyes and beaming smiles every day.  They were strong enough to make up for my weakness, enthusiastic enough to work through the rain, wind and cold, smart enough to laugh at my jokes.  All is good with the world. The young people have this.”

20200403_140929.jpgPaul Kenyon, left, Jason Janke, and Travis Orient built the greenhouse. Emily Smith – 2020

Visitors to Penwern likely take Orkild’s work for granted. They should not. He is the Wizard of Penwern, and much happens behing the scenes before Orkild work his magic for us to see: “Here’s how I made the greenhouse perfectly plumb and square for a snug glass house fit.  I built a platform on top of the coping stone.  This guaranteed me square without movement and something to stand on.  In my shop, I built a precise end wall form with knee wall height and roof pitch.  Bracing the end wall form to the platform assured me plum.  Then I was able to saw cut, grind and chip out the original tower stone to create a flat channel to accept the end of the glass house.  The process was repeated on the north end to form a concrete ledge.

20200117_134213.jpgBill Orkild – 2020

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Bill Orkild -April 2020

Now you know how to do it for your next project,” Orkild writes, certainly with a grin, as he finishes his email message!

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.

 

 

Penwern Publication Progress

(c) 2018 Mark Hertzberg / Book cover (c) 2018 Brad Norr Design

Sue and John Major, stewards of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (Penwern) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin asked me to write and photograph a book about Jones and about Penwern in 2013. The book is now finished and in the design stage, with publication next spring by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. We now have a cover to show you!

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We never anticipated that this would be a five-year project, but it proved to be challenging to research the book, especially because there is no known extant correspondence between Jones and Wright. The book is based on as much original research as possible, and dispels a number of things that have been written about Penwern in the past (including the origin of the name of the estate). I found only a handful of photos of Jones, just one of him at Penwern likely taken when he was about 65, twenty-five years after Penwern was built. It was almost four years before I found any adjectives describing Jones’ affable personality, a quality I had guessed but could not document until Patrick J. Mahoney and Eric O’Malley unearthed obscure articles about Jones from 1888 and 1912 in a trade journal and in a newspaper article about his work.

Wisconsin Public Television videotaped an illustrated talk I give about Penwern at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House last spring. It is an hour long and can be viewed here:

https://wpt4.org/wpt-video/university-place/penwern-a-frank-lloyd-wright-summer-place-utz1yf/

But of course you need to buy the book to see many more contemporary and historic photographs and read much more about this wonderful estate and its stewards since 1900!

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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Architectural Archaeologist

Text and photos © Mark Hertzberg 2017

Wallis Pencil LRFrank Lloyd Wright drawing of Henry Wallis Cottage scheme 1: © 1986 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York) and used with permission.

Robert Hartmann describes himself professionally as an architectural designer. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, he has designed many of the city’s downtown storefronts. More important for me, has been as an architectural archaeologist as I work on my Frank Lloyd Wright books. This summer Hartmann — an avid baseball fan — hit one home run after another after I sent him high resolution copies of Wright’s drawings related to Penwern, the Fred B. Jones estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900 – 1903) and we visited the estate twice.

A week ago he hit a veritable grand slam home run in a late night email. He had greatly enlarged one of Wright’s drawings for the unrealized “scheme 1” cottage for Henry H. Wallis, designed in September, 1900, the month before Penwern would be designed for a nearby lot. Wallis, the premier land salesman on the south shore of Delavan Lake was an early client and patron of Wright. Wright proposed an arched porte-cochère for Wallis (drawing above). The house, as built, (below) differs in several details including the lack of the porte-cochère as well as the lack of stone piers at the corners of the house. Wallis sold the house at completion to the GoodSmith brothers and it is now known as the Wallis – GoodSmith House (the open porch facing the lake is a modern addition):

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Wallis-Goodsmith House

Hartmann was intrigued by faint pencil marks by Wright above and to the left of the proposed porte-cochère and brought them to a finished state. He discovered that Wright had drawn both a covered walkway above it and a tower to the left of it:

Hartmann cropped LRInterpretation of scheme 1 drawing © Robert Hartmann 2017 and used with permission.

All three of these unrealized details — the arched porte-cochère, the covered walkway above it, and the tower are prominent details at Penwern:

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There are two possible explanations for the faint pencil sketches of the walkway and tower on Wallis scheme 1. Did Wright propose these features for Wallis before building them for Jones as Hartmann wonders? Or did he simply use a copy of the discarded Wallis plan on which to sketch ideas for the Jones house as Patrick Mahoney suggests, pointing out that Wright did just that using drawings for the Walter V. Davidson House in Buffalo (1908) when designing the Oscar M. Steffens House in Chicago a year later?

Hartmann made several other significant discoveries about Penwern this summer:

-Wright’s drawings for the gatehouse show a semi-circular wall east of the water tower. Today only half the wall stands. That discrepancy intrigued Hartmann enough to mention that to Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern. They asked Bill Orkild, their contractor, to do some digging. He discovered the foundation of the missing portion of the wall as well as irrigation pipes from the 1903 greenhouse, which was torn down in the 1970s. There are now plans to make the wall whole again. The missing portion was apparently lost when strips of the east and west sides of the estate were sold in 1989 by a previous owner.

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-Wright’s plan of the first floor of the main house shows curved walls for the large front porch (facing the lake) of the main house and the two side porches. Yet they were built straight. The Majors and John O’Shea, who was steward of Penwern from 1989 – 1994 had the porches rebuilt as shown on the drawings but the question remained why there was a discrepancy between the drawing and the walls as realized. Hartmann, again greatly enlarging the Wright drawings, found faint pencil lines bisecting the curved walls, with right angles connecting them to the porches. He surmises that Wright realized, or was convinced by his draftsmen or the contractor, that the curved walls would be difficult to build so he changed the final design to straight walls with the pencil marks, rather than make an entirely new drawing.

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-Hartmann pointed out that there are fewer rows of boards and battens on the front of the stable than indicated on drawings of the structure. And, the drawing does not seem to take into account the gentle slope of the land in front of the stable. Does this mean that Wright had not seen the land for himself or that he did not supervise construction of the building? Hartmann also pointed out that whereas early photos of the front of the stable and the drawing show only two windows at each end, at some point it was determined that it was too dark inside the stable, and a second pair of windows was added just below.

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Penwern

Robert Hartmann, left, and Bill Orkild. 

Penwern

Copies of Wright’s 17 surviving drawings for Penwern can be viewed at: www.penwern.com  My book about Penwern will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in the spring of 2019. The book could not be possible without the help of countless people including Hartmann, Mahoney, and Orkild. For that reason the Acknowledgments are one of the most important parts of the book for me to accurately write.

Penwern Update

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I shot this panoramic photo of the view in three directions from a guest bedroom at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones house (“Penwern”) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin this morning. It was perhaps my last research trip to Penwern before the January 15 deadline for the manuscript for my book about Penwern which will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in spring 2019.

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I am currently reviewing voluminous notes about Penwern that I have accumulated since starting the project in 2013 and rediscovering important points. Newspaper microfilm gives us the only definitive documentation of a visit by Wright to the lake…in 1905 while preparing to design a home for A.P. Johnson of Chicago. The A.P. Johnson House was the last of the five Wright homes on the lake.

The microfilm also clarifies the timeline for the four Wright buildings at Penwern. There are 17 surviving drawings. The drawings for the boathouse and the first floor plan for the house are dated October, 1900. One stable drawing is dated March 24, 1903. The microfilm dates completion of the house by the end of June, 1901 and the boathouse in spring, 1902. The gate lodge was constructed in 1903, the stable the next year.

The drawings are construction drawings, not presentation drawings. In his autobiography Wright mentions regret about the number of drawings he discarded. Mark Peisch theorizes that many drawings were lost or thrown out in the move from the Oak Park Studio to Taliesin, in his 1964 book “The Chicago School of Architecture.”  I do not believe that drawings were lost to either fire at Taliesin: it is not likely that the Penwern drawings would have been kept in separate places and the surviving drawings show no sign of fire or water damage.

There is a wonderful website for Penwern: www.penwern.com

Friends have told me they look forward to seeing the book…so do I!

 

Wright in Miniature

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017 / Photos by Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson, and used with permission of SC Johnson.

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The sixth iteration of SC Johnson’s annual The SC Johnson Gallery: At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition opens today in Fortaleza Hall on the company’s campus in Racine, Wisconsin. The centerpiece of the exhibition, titled On the Wright Trail, is the display of 26 miniature scale models of Wright’s architecture by retired architectural draftsman Ron Olsen of Janesville, Wisconsin. One of the models is of the gate lodge at Penwern, Wright’s estate for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903):

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The exhibition coincides with both the summer-long observances of Wright’s 150th birthday (June 8) and the inauguration  of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail in Wisconsin. A ceremony marking the launch of the Trail was held May 10 in the Great Workroom of Wright’s landmark SC Johnson Administration Building (1936). Olsen and his wife, Judy, were photographed when they saw the exhibition for the first time after the Trail ceremony. The exhibition includes a video interview with Olsen:

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“SC Johnson is proud of its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture,” said Kelly M. Semrau, Senior Vice President – Global Corporate Affairs, Communication and Sustainability, SC Johnson. “In celebration of Wright’s birth in Wisconsin 150 years ago, we are thrilled to offer visitors of On the Wright Trail a unique opportunity to study the architect’s design practice across different areas, media and time.”

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When was Wright possibly wrong?

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

When was Wright possibly wrong? For one, when he possibly made the handwritten notation “Lake Delavan” on one of the drawings for a proposed summer cottage and boathouse for J.D. Stamm in 1945 (Project #4513). And so the project has been listed as being meant for Delavan Lake in both Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer’s “Monograph” of Wright’s work and Volume 3 of “The Complete Works.”

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[Both drawings, above, (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Sue and John Major, stewards of Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (“Penwern”) on Delavan Lake commissioned me to write a book about Jones and Penwern in 2013. (The book will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in the fall of 2018.) I was intrigued by the Stamm project, and excited about it, when I saw it in “The Complete Works,” because I was not aware of such a late project for the lake. The latest documented Wright commission on Delavan Lake was from 1907.

A check of the known Wright correspondence in Anthony Alofsin’s “Index to the Taliesin Correspondence” and with Sally McKay at the Getty Research Center showed only one Stamm letter, an unrelated 1953 note from Stamm to Wright about a movie. Nor was there any record of the Stamms or the project in the Delavan area. Local historians wondered if the project was for Lake Nagawicka, near Delafield, 45 miles and two counties away from Delavan because they had heard of a Stamm marine-related business there.

The hunt was on to find the family. Inquiries to local historical societies and libraries in Delafield were not fruitful. As I often have while working on the book, I turned to Mary Stauffacher, a friend, who is a whiz at navigating ancestry.com. She found John Davies (not David) Stamm’s daughter. Lisa Stamm told me that her father was working on the project for his father, Victor Stamm, not for himself. While she was too young to remember much about the project, she remembered meeting Wright when she was about 3 years old in the late 1940s. And she thought that Lake Nagawicka was, indeed, the likely site of the project because her grandparents, who lived in Milwaukee, would summer on Lake Nagawicka, but she was not certain.

But I could not go on supposition. Lisa passed my questions on to her family, and a few days ago her daughter, Vanessa Parsons, came up with the definitive proof that the project was indeed meant for Lake Nagawicka, rather than Delavan Lake. I was bleary-eyed, nearing the end of an overnight bus trip from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, when I opened her welcome email with close up photos of the block lettering on her copy of the Stamm project. It clearly reads Lake Nagawicka. It took five months of on-and-off digging, but the mystery is solved and the record is set straight, with the generous and patient help of others.

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[Both photos above courtesy Vanessa Parsons and the Stamm family, and (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Brian Spencer, AIA, who has extensively researched the Delavan Lake work, who did restoration work on Wright’s Wallis – GoodSmith House on Delavan Lake in 1992-93 and rebuilt the Penwern boathouse which had been destroyed by a 1978 arson fire in 2005 (working from a single sheet of Wright’s drawings), suggests that the mistake by Wright (or whoever made the notation) was understandable: Delavan? Delafield? Unless one is from the area, it would be easy to mix them up knowing that Wright had about a dozen commissions on Delavan Lake.

It is disappointing  to not know more about the commission and why it was not executed, but it is satisfying to know for certain which lake it would have been built on. Some Wright aficionados have asked for the exact location so they can hunt satellite photos, given that the project evidently would have been connected to an existing house. The hunt for that information continues.

Summer and Fall at Penwern

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

It is time to revisit Penwern, the magnificent estate Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Chicago “capitalist” Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900 – 1903. Penwern was Jones’ country home, a place to entertain his many friends from Chicago. It is no less a magnificent home to welcome friends today than it was during the myriad of summer parties mentioned in contemporary newspaper social notes.

The entry is one of my favorite parts of the house. Visitors enter the house under a low ceiling (the balcony or passageway from the stairs to the bedrooms is above this entry ceiling). Instead of being confronted by walls and doors, they can immediately look into the billiard and dining rooms (left) and living room (right).

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We see friends of Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994,at the Majors’ annual party celebrating the 4th of July. While Wright specified that the front porch (facing north and the lake) and the two side porches should have curved walls, the walls were either built straight or modified by Jones. John O’Shea, steward of Penwern from 1989 – 1994, rebuilt the front porch to Wright’s design. The Majors did the same with the side porches last year. The curved walls echo both the arched porte-cochere and the 28′ foot long arch over the front porch.

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The Majors also removed the wall separating the front porch from the east side porch:

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Early photos of Penwern show a cairn near the gate lodge. The Majors recreated it this year:

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They also uncovered a cistern at the gate lodge:

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There are often different views of the lake through the boathouse windows and through the arched porte-cochere:

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Fall is spectacular in Wisconsin. This past weekend begged a visit to Penwern, cameras in hand:

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The stable and the house:

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The gate lodge:

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We end our visit with a photo of Jones’ monogrammed wind vane which was once atop the stable. It is now in the living room:

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Visit www.penwern.com to see many more photos of the house, both historic and contemporary, as well as copies of Wright’s surviving drawings.