Wright’s “Ship in the Woods”

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

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Tallahassee, Florida is well off the beaten track in the World of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is 1151 miles southeast of Taliesin, 971 miles from Oak Park. And it is 270 miles from the Wright-designed campus at Florida Southern College where Clifton and George Lewis attended a World Federalist Conference in 1950. Florida Southern is the largest collection of Wright buildings at a single site, and Wright was on campus that day, too, for the opening of his new administration building.

LR Lewis Spring House 135.jpgThe Lewises met Wright at a reception, and, says their daughter Byrd Lewis Mashburn, asked him to design a house for their family of six. “We have a lot of children and not much money.” Wright agreed, and told them to “find your ground, not on a lot.” By 1952 they found a five acre parcel on the outskirts of Tallahassee, with a natural spring that flowed to Lake Jackson. The spring is what makes the house known more popularly as the Spring House, rather than the Clifton and George Lewis House. The house was built in just nine months in 1954.

LR Lewis Spring House 125.jpgMashburn has fond memories of growing up in the house

“It was a noisy, light filled, family fun, zoo! We were a loud and rambunctious bunch; when we got too rowdy, our dad would say, ‘No rough-housing, no monkey business!’ He was the oldest of eight children, five boys and three girls. He had already lived with a lot of rough-housing and monkey business.”

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“I moved away from Spring House when I was 20 and retuned to help my parents at the end of 1994. Our father died in 1996 and I continued to live with Mother until she could no longer live here in 2006. My brothers Ben and Van and a niece lived here together and separately until mid-2010. It took us a couple of years to empty the house of all family belongings and prepare for what we have been doing since the beginning of 2013, events and tours to raise funds for Spring House Institute, the 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit corporation which is doing this preservation project, to acquire, restore, complete, maintain and manage Lewis Spring House as the learning institute our parents dreamed for our home. Our mother died in 2014 and I moved back in the house in 2017. We continue to work towards those goals.”

The house has alternately been described as hemicycle and pod-shaped. This photo has wide angle distortion because I could only back up so far in the woods to show it all. This is now the master bedroom balcony, formerly the boys’ bedroom:

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The nautical theme of the house, from the prow-shape to porthole-like windows is not accidental.

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Lewis Spring House

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Mashburn explains: “Mother and I were both named for her mother, Clifton, and our dad named the sailboat he designed and built for our family after Mother…The “Clifton” was a huge, all year, part of our lives. It was 21’ long, 8’ wide and weighed 2 tons, constructed out of tidewater red cypress…

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“…They would pack the car the night before and wake us up in the dark to make the trip to Spring Creek where he kept the Clifton in fresh water to keep the barnacles from growing back so fast. He didn’t want to scrape and repaint the boat more often than he had to, and gave each of my brothers, George Edward, Van and Ben, a turn doing that with friends. He’d get them started. It was my turn when the boat was struck by lightning and needed a repair that my father wasn’t able to leave work to do himself…My parents gave me the Clifton in 1977 and I planned to build a square screen house around it and have it as the bedroom. It would have been wonderful. It is beyond repair but still holds us all in our hearts. 

“I believe that when our parents told Mr. Wright how much the Clifton was part of our lives all year, that is what inspired the design of our home. When I told William Storrer that, he heartily agreed with me. He said, ‘Absolutely! That is exactly the kind of thing Frank Lloyd Wright looked for, something the family treasured to somehow incorporate into the design of the family’s home.’ And look what he [Wright] gave us! A ship in the woods!”

Spring House is admittedly in rough shape. That is why the family formed a 501(c)(3) to raise money for the extensive repairs needed. And that is why visitors make a $50 tax-deductible donation on-line before paying $25 a person to schedule a tour of the house. It is money that goes to a worthwhile cause. Mashburn was not reticent to let me photograph the house in full detail, problems and all. I am interspersing my photos with her memories about growing up in Spring House.

LR Lewis Spring House 017.jpgThe living room, master bedroom balcony, and dining room face the woods.

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“The house was full of sound when we were home. It has amazing acoustics! Everyone in our family is deaf more or less and I really believe part of it is always trying so hard not to hear that we eventually couldn’t. At some point pretty early on, our parents bought a hifi stereo with an FM/AM radio and there was lots of music. In the beginning it was primarily classical music and some opera…We had a baby grand piano and a copy of the Great American Song Book, and we’d sing songs together. Van could play many of the songs.

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“We had room at the built-in dining table Mr. Wright designed for us, to all have our meals together, then get ready for school (we all did our homework on that table) or head out to the woods or play with our animals: a black dachshund named Princess Margaret Rose, my cat named Snicklefritz, my goat, Goatie, and 10 acres to explore. Van [one of her brothers] fed squirrels corn in a large bowl on the terrace wall were it ends, and had an incubator in the basement where he hatched out baby ducks for the pond. Our dad made homebrew and scuppernong wine in the basement. Years later, different boys I had gone to school with told me they had had the privilege of having some of our dad’s brew with him when we were in college.” 

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“…when weather called for it, our dad ALWAYS built a big roaring fire (to keep the furnace from kicking on as long as he could) so the house was full of those wonderful burning oak smells mixed in with aromas of the bacon and coffee in the kitchen.”

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“And he had a smoker on the half-pod concrete point out of the east double-glass doors. Winter was duck hunting season and my dad and brothers would hunt down the road at Lake Jackson (early Native American name was Okeeheepkee, our road’s name; it means disappearing waters!) so he would smoke or grill ducks, and later mullet out there. In and out of the right hand door he’d go, and those delicious smells would mix and mingle with the other things cooking and the firewood burning. A little breeze might come or go with him so occasionally smoke would blow out of the fireplace; some of what’s on the chimney hood. If as rarely happened, too much smoke was blown into the living room, one of us children would go outside to the porthole windows and open one or two until it dissipated inside.”

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LR Lewis Spring House 083.jpgThe balcony outside the master bedroom overlooks the living room and then continues outside, facing the woods.

“There was a croaker sack rope swing across the stream and a huge dead oak to cross over to the swing. We’d climb our dad’s 12’ step ladder (used to wash the windows with) and one of us would carry the rope over to the person on the ladder and we’d jump off and sail out over the stream! We’d yell as loud s as we could, “Ahh-ya-bah-yaaaaa!!! And when we’d swing back to the ladder another of us would jump on with us, in the other direction. There was enough water in the stream to drop and land on our behinds, one at a time. My brothers swam in the pond; I don’t remember doing that but I did used to sit in the pool of cold clear spring water below the 5’ waterfall before our dad had the dam built so we’d have the pond. The pond was always full until sometime after an unpermitted storm water pond was built next to our south property line and didn’t perk. It was built above pipe clay, or Fuller’s Earth, and changed the way the underground water worked. We hope to restore our spring so we have water all year again, instead of five or six months when the ground water level is high enough to fill up the pond.”

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The shape of the house is echoed in the curved lines in the living room floor:LR Lewis Spring House 121.jpg

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The kitchen is curved and diminutive. It is on the first floor of the round tower by the front door. The two bathrooms are on the second floor of the tower. These steel beams will support the roof between the front door and the washhouse (the small structure to the right of the stairs in the photo above) when funds are raised to rebuild the roof.

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LR Lewis Spring House 075.jpgThe photo above was taken looking up from the kitchen.

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The living room balcony is also the upstairs hallway:

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The master bedroom, formerly the boys’ bedroom:

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A wood screen overlooking the living room balcony can be opened and closed:

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Wright wanted one large bathroom, but the bank that was going to make the loan for the house specified two bathrooms for a home with six occupants:

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Clifton and George Lewis were civic minded and active in the local civil rights movement. Their accomplishments were recognized by the county board. Their footprints are among those permanently etched in a downtown sidewalk on the city’s Downtown Heritage Trail, along with those of 50 other civil rights “foot soldiers.” A bus boycott, like the famous one in Montgomery, Alabama, forced the desegregation of city buses:

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You can help support the restoration of Spring House with a donation:

https://www.preservespringhouse.org

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Bill Boyd and the Keland House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Karen and Bill – August 16, 2008 at Lake Owen, Wisconsin, their summer home

One way to become steward of a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is to marry into it. That is how Bill Boyd came to be a steward of the Keland House in Mount Pleasant (Racine), Wisconsin in 1982. He joked with me that he was accused of marrying his late wife, Karen Johnson Boyd, for just that reason. She and her first husband had commissioned the house in 1954. Bill, who was properly called Dr. William B. Boyd, and WBB to those who worked with him, died peacefully Wednesday December 16 in his beloved Keland House after a short illness. He was 97. His dear Karen had died in the house in January 2016.

Keland House 5.14.18 002.jpgThe Keland House, May 14, 2018

Bill told me that he had never seen a building designed by Wright until he came to Racine in 1980 for an interview to become the second president of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Johnson home that Karen grew up in. Wingspread was designed by Wright in  1937. The interview, with Karen’s brother, Sam, the president of SC Johnson, took place in Wright’s landmark SC Johnson Administration Building (1936). Bill summed up his initial reaction to Wright’s architecture in just three words, “I was smitten.”

Wright presented a Japanese print by the famous woodblock print artist Utagawa Hiroshige to H.F. Johnson Jr. when the family moved into Wingspread. The print hangs in the master bedroom in the Keland House:

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Bill missed an immersion into the World of Wright in the early 1950s, when he was studying for his Master’s degree at Emory College in Atlanta. He had applied for a position at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Dr. Ludd Spivey, a teetotaler who commissioned Wright to design the college campus in 1938 (10 Wright-designed buildings were ultimately constructed), was in Atlanta. He invited Bill to a lunch interview. Dr. Spivey said, “Before we begin, I must ask you if you drink alcohol.” Bill replied, “I enjoy a drink now and then.” The interview was over. Bill was on his own for lunch after Dr. Spivey rose from the table, and declared “There is no point in our going on any further.” I told him I was glad he enjoyed a drink “now and then.” If he had gone to Florida Southern, I said, he may not have come to Wingspread, and I would not have met him.

Boyds 005.jpgAugust 14, 2008, Lake Owen, Wisconsin

He had a distinguished career in academia, though not at Florida Southern, of course. He was President of the University of Oregon for five years before coming to Wingspread. His academic career is summed up in the obituary he asked me to prepare with him five years ago: Dr. Boyd, who earned his Ph.D. in Modern Diplomatic History from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, was awarded five honorary degrees during his career. He was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Alpha Theta national honor societies. Between 1954 and 1980 he served in the Humanities Department at Michigan State University; then as Dean of Faculty at Alma College; as a Dean and Director of the Honors Program at Ohio State University; Vice-Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and as President of Central Michigan University prior to his appointment as President of the University of Oregon in 1975.

He was not a dull academic. On the contrary, he had great joie de vivre.

IMG_0449.jpgAugust 10, 2016, on Lake Owen

A Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he grew up on the water near Charleston, South Carolina, and loved sailing both on Lake Michigan in Racine, and on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

Lake Owen 08 037.jpgKaren and Bill on Lake Owen, Wisconsin, August 14, 2008

When the producers of the movie Animal House sought permission to film on campus at the University of Oregon, he gave his consent, recalling what he regarded as the short-sighted decision by the administration at UC-Berkley denying Mike Nichols permission to film The Graduate on their campus. His only proviso was that the school not be identified in the film. The famous scene with the horse in the president’s office was, indeed, filmed in his office. Karen once told me that her favorite scene of any movie she had seen was the food fight in Animal House. I profiled Bill and Animal House two years ago:

https://racinecountyeye.com/dr-william-b-boyd-and-his-connection-to-the-movie-animal-house/

WBB Animal House 001.jpgBill wore his Oregon Ducks hat when I profiled his involvement in “Animal House”

Bill had a great social conscience. He told me that he was angered by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s attempts to stifle free speech at Berkley when Bill was the school’s Vice-Chancellor. At the press conference October 12, 1974 introducing him to the University of Oregon community, he said demonstrators outside were “ill-mannered … but manners are not the most important thing in life,” adding that sometimes “passion and tremendous concern for social justice” are just as important.

Buffy Sainte-Marie performed at the festivities surrounding Bill’s inauguration as President of Central Michigan University in 1969. The event was remembered 50 years later in a story online: Not often does a university president offer students an afternoon off from classes to attend an “informal ceremony,” a reception, and a concert performed by a legend of activism and folk music. Fifty years later, the Boyd inauguration is remembered as a notable moment in the history of Central Michigan University, when the students, the trustees, and the President opted to forego pomp and circumstance in favor of “a ‘swinging’ ceremony.” From:

http://www.clarkehistoricallibrary.org/2019/05/fiftieth-anniversary-of-president-boyds.html

He spoke with pride of clandestinely delivering what would have been deemed subversive material to a Jewish “refusenik” in Moscow during a conference in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

He was passionate about Racine’s Kids First Fund. Wrote Marge Kozina, I have been very fortunate to have had the wonderful opportunity of working closely with William Boyd (Bill) for many years when I was executive director of the Racine Community Foundation (RCF) and Bill was a board member. He was the leading force, along with several others, in helping create and grow the Kids First Fund within the Foundation. Bill’s dedication and leadership in the early years have benefitted thousands of students and hundreds of teachers within the Racine Unified School District. He is deeply committed to enhancing the lives of others through education. Bill Boyd is one of the nicest and caring gentlemen I have ever met in my life.  Both Bill and Karen, each in their own special way, have made enormous efforts to bettering our community.  

Freeman Dinner Keland 011.jpgSeptember 27, 2018, hosting a special dinner cooked by Wright aficionado and master chef Steven Freeman. It was a joyous evening, marking Bill’s first meal at the dining room table in the Keland House since Karen’s death almost three years earlier.

Journalist Clay Eals, who covered the University of Oregon for The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper, quoted part of Bill’s presidential inauguration speech in the January 18, 1976 edition of the newspaper. His remarks seem prescient today: A changed set of American expectations about life in the third century of the republic, the constricted state of the national economy, and the fears of a student generation viewing an anxious future from a normless present all pose challenges to the existing shape of the university….As usual in human affairs, discriminating judgments are required if human intellect and imagination are to prevail over temptations and anxieties.

In an email sent after he learned of Bill’s death, Eals called him “a reporter’s dream.” He included a clipping of a story about Bill being interviewed in the middle of a scandal in the athletic department. He opened his briefcase to refer to some papers only to find a pair of pants inside. “I’ve been trying to get them to the dry cleaners for a week,” he said. “And I haven’t had a clean shirt for days.”

Eals wrote to Bill in June 2020, including a copy of the last story he wrote for the newspaper in June 1980, a story about Bill that he wrote in longhand in his car, literally the night before leaving on a cross-country bicycle trip. Among my favorite news sources was you, and I had many occasions to cover stories in which you were an important, if not primary, source. Your cool informality, sense of humor, and way with words were most impressive. Seemingly effortlessly, you set people at ease.

Ellen Brzezinski, one of Bill’s nurses, sent family members and Eals’s letter with this note: Mr Boyd got this letter in the mail today. I read it to him and barely made it through without crying.  What a tribute!

Roger Dower, one of Bill’s successors at President of the Johnson Foundation, noted his lasting impact on the institution: Bill had a diverse and sharp intellect, but also a deep passion and caring for improving the lives of people nationally and in Racine. His programs and conferences at the Johnson Foundation on the critical  role of quality education for all children, placed that topic squarely on the national and local agenda. The Foundation’s work on K-12 education, under Bill’s direction, remains as influential today as it was in the mid-1980’s and remains a focus for the Foundation today.

Bill believed deeply in the power of convening small groups to solve big problems – the principal activity of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread then and now.  With his usual eloquence, Bill frequently said, “ while small group meetings may seem like frail weapons to take on the daunting challenges of our times, just properly used they can slay dragons.”

Keland House 2002 016.jpgBill gave me my first extensive tour of the Keland House on November 1, 2002. He saw this nuthatch through the window, when we paused on the steps, and remarked, “This is what I love about living in this house.”

Keland Birds.jpgIn January 2019 I photographed this silhouette of the birds outside as we had lunch together in the family room.

Stacy Owens, Bill’s lead nurse, told me that Bill died peacefully, and that “he saw Karen just before he died.” Rest in peace, my friend. The world is richer for having known you.

I leave you with a photograph I took of the refrigerator at the Keland House when we were getting ready to enjoy Steven Freeman’s dinner:

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Florida Southern College

Text and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

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The sun rises over Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, left, and Danforth Chapel at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida March 13. The college is the largest single-site collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. College president Dr. Ludd Spivey commissioned Wright to design the college campus master plan and the buildings in 1938. Twelve structures designed by Wright were built over a twenty year time span from 1938 to 1958. The Waterdome and the Esplanades are considered two of the 12 completed structures).

A thirteenth building, a Usonian home designed for faculty housing, was completed in 2013. It serves as a guest relations center for tour guests.

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We had the privilege of a behind-the-scenes tour of the Wright-designed buildings on campus with Mark Tlachac.

The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, with its carillon tower, below, is the best known of the Wright buildings.

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The smaller, more intimate William H. Danforth Chapel is adjacent to the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. Its “prow” is somewhat similar to Wright’s Unitarian Meeting House near Madison.

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The Esplanades, which Wright designed to shield people from the sun and rain, were my favorite subject. Wright designed them as evocative of citrus trees. The first photo is the projected shadow of one of the columns at sunrise.


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The ceiling of the reception area of the Fine Administration Building reminded me of ceilings in Price Tower.Florida Southern College

I also liked the original Roux Library. The building has been remodeled, but Wright’s lower level reading room is still similar

 as when built.

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College

Jeff Baker, an architect from Albany, New York, is working with the college on the restoration of many aspects of the buildings.

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College