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:

LR Greenhouse 005.jpg

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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):

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:

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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.

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.

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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.