A Spring Evening at Penwern

© Mark Hertzberg

Fred B. Jones commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Penwern, a magnificent estate on the South Shore of Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900-1903. Wright designed five homes and a yacht club on the lake, but Penwern was his most expansive commission there: Wright designed not only the “cottage” (the main house), but also a boathouse, stable, and gate lodge.

FBJ @ Penwern 1.jpegThis is the only known photo of Jones at Penwern. He is thought to be about 65 years old when it was taken, around 1923. Courtesy Sue and John Major

Entertaining friends is the theme that unites all of Penwern’s stewards. Jones was a Chicago business executive. He enjoyed entertaining at his summer home until he died in 1933 at age 75. Boating is an obvious form of recreation, but one of the signature features of Penwern is the tower at one end of the porte-cochère. The room at the end of the walkway from the main house, a walkway above the porte-cochère, was the room where Jones and friends played poker.

Enertaining Main House Major 014.jpgSue and John Major host a party every July 4.

Entertaining Burr R white coat 002.jpgBurr Robbins, in white suit, often hosted business clients. He and his wife, Peg, became the second stewards of Penwern in 1939. Courtesy Ross Robbins

O'Shea Luau Party 1.jpgJohn O’Shea hosted an “Aloha! Party” in 1994 when he sold Penwern to the Majors. Photo courtesy of John O’Shea.

Sue and John Major became the stewards of Penwern in 1994. Their rehabilitation of the estate is well known in Wright circles: they removed the two unsightly 1909 and 1910 non-Wright additions that Jones commissioned; in 2005 they rebuilt the boathouse which had burned down in 1978 in an arson fire, working from a single sheet of Wright’s plans; they finished John O’Shea’s project to have the three main porches have round outer walls, per Wright’s plans; they overhauled the stable and gate lodge…and anything else dilapidated or altered. Let’s consider the boathouse:

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Boathouse ruins 4.15.jpgThis is how the foundation of the boathouse looked until 2005. Courtesy Bill Orkild

Boathouse.jpgThis is the sheet of drawings that Bill Orkild and architects had to work from. © 2022 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)

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When wizard contractor Bill Orkild was asked by the Majors to look at a small project shortly after they bought Penwern, he says, his father warned him that this small project might become a full time career. His father was prescient. As if the work outlined above weren’t accomplishments enough, and as if routine maintenance of the estate isn’t enough, the Majors came up with yet another restoration challenge in 2020, which brings us to a spring evening at Penwern in 2022. Jones loved growing roses, and Wright gave him a commercially-built greenhouse attached to the gate lodge water tower, right:

Gate Lodge 1st floor, Greenhouse, Curved Wall.jpg© 2022 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)

Historic_Scan_10aa.jpgMembers of the caretakers’ family are shown near the greenhouse, in a photo taken ca. 1935. Photo courtesy of Betty Schacht.

The greenhouse had deteriorated by the 1970s and was replaced with a carport by Terry Canty, the Robbins’ daughter:

Canty Carport removal.jpgPhoto courtesy of Bill Orkild

The Majors had Orkild remove the carport, but for years the space looked like a Jack o-lantern with a missing tooth:

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There was, of course, only one Major / Orkild solution, and that was to rebuild the greenhouse in 2020. Plans were drawn by DePietro Associates:

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The Majors made one significant change. Rather than use the greenhouse as, literally, a greenhouse, it would be a place to entertain friends. Work started before, and continued through the early days of the Pandemic. Finally, in 2022 it was time for the new greenhouse to shine, and shine it did on June 4 when the Majors hosted a benefit evening for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy:

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Guests at the benefit came from across the country. The evening started with a boat tour on the lake, giving guests a lake-side view of the five Wright homes including the A.P. Johnson House:

Penwern Party 2022 012.jpgKimberly Valentine, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, left; Debi and Ted Muntz, Loveness House, Stillwater, Minnesota.

Penwern Party 2022 011.jpgBarbara Gordon, Executive Director, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, left; Paul May and Heidi Ruehle (Ruehle is Executive Director Unity Temple Restoration Foundation); Chuck Henderson, Walker House, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; Steve and Debra Poe, William E. Martin House, Oak Park.

The boat tour was followed by an elegant gourmet dinner in the dining room. Note the dining room sideboard which was painted white, as was all the dining room trim, in the photo of Burr Robbins. Orkild restored it:

DR Hutch Before .jpgCourtesy Bill Orkild

DR Hutch During.jpgCourtesy Bill Orkild

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Then it was off to the greenhouse for dessert:

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And so, through the Majors generous gesture for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, ended another evening as Jones envisioned Penwern, friends gathered together on the shore of his beloved Delavan Lake.

Links:

Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy:

https://savewright.org

Penwern website:

https://penwern.com

Continue to scroll down to read previous articles on http://www.wrightinracine.com

 

 

 

 

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: 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:

LR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 001.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 005.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 007.jpgLR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 008.jpg

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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:

Penwern GL Window 001.jpg