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.
Courtesy 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:
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.
The unidentified people in the historic photos are presumably relatives and family friends of Schacht’s grandparents. Jones is not in any of the photos.
Some 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.
The 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:
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:
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: