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):

Wallis-Goodsmith HouseDSC_7995.JPG DSC_7996.JPG DSC_7997.JPG DS

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:

Penwern 076.jpg

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.

Gatehouse East Wall 012.jpg

-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.

Side Porch 029.jpg

-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.

Stable Front 9.27.17003.jpg

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.

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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.

LR Penwern NE bedroom view.jpg

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!

 

A Curiosity in the Wright Archives

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2017)

I saw something curious in the archive of Frank Lloyd Wright presentation and construction drawings at the Avery Architectural Fine Arts Library at Columbia University while doing research there early this week. I had never run across a cost estimate on one of Wright’s presentation drawings before. The estimate is smack in the middle of one of the drawings for the Stephen A. Foster Cottage and Barn (1900) on Chicago’s south side. The estimate for $3500 is equivalent to about $103,000 today. The website I use for cost comparisons is:

https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/uscompare/

Foster.jpg

Foster 2.jpg(c) 2017 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Foster House 001.jpg

I was interested in looking at the Foster file because the house slightly predates the commission for Fred B. Jones (Penwern) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin which I am writing about. The Foster “Cottage” and three of the four buildings Wright designed for Jones have flared or raised ridge rooflines, thought to be a Japanese design influence.

Perhaps it was not uncommon to have a cost estimate on a drawing, but this was the first time I had seen one. Incidentally,  isn’t a fact that Wright never brought buildings in over his initial cost estimate, or am I mistaken?

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).

LR Entry Way 001.jpg

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.

July 4 Penwern Party 007 LR.jpgJuly 4 Penwern Party 008 LR.jpg

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

LR Side Porch 061.jpg

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

LR Cairn 002.jpg

LR Cairn 001.jpg

They also uncovered a cistern at the gate lodge:

LR Cistern 003.jpg

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

LR Boathouse 066.jpgArches 066.jpg

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

LR Penwern 075.jpg

The stable and the house:

LR Stable 062a.jpg

The gate lodge:

LR Gatehouse 214.jpg

 

LR Gatehouse 215.jpg

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:

LR Fireplace 016.jpg

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.

Penwern – Wright’s Porch Design is Built

Text and photos (c) 2015 Mark Hertzberg, unless noted.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed semi-circular outer porch walls for Penwern, the Fred B. Jones House on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903), but the walls were either built straight or modified from his plans early in the life of the house. Jones is shown near the straight east porch wall in an undated photograph. The house was completed in 1901; he died in 1933.

FBJ @ Penwern 1

The east and west (side) porches now have semi-circular outer walls, as indicated on Wright’s drawings for the house. (The drawings can be viewed on Penwern’s magnificent website, www.penwern.com ) Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994, commissioned master builder Bill Orkild to rebuild the side porches to Wright’s plan this spring. The work was completed just a week ago. The outer wall of the front porch, facing the lake, was changed from straight to semi-circular by John O’Shea, the fourth owner of the house, between 1989 and 1994. The front porch is on the right side of the first photo below:

Penwern Porches

The semi-circular design brings a unified design element back to the house because it echoes the dramatic arch over the front porch and the arched porte-cochere.

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Orkild photographed the east porch during reconstruction:

porch wall 015

He also fashioned the diamond-shape accents shown on Wright’s drawings. Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

The next question for the Majors to ponder with Orkild is whether the walls on the insides of the porch are load-bearing. The walls are not shown on Wright’s plans. Removing them would allow for more dramatic vistas to the east and west from the front porch. It is possible that the porches were screened in with these walls after Jones lived in the house to shelter himself and his visitors from mosquitoes.

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches