The Coda to Penwern’s Rehabilitation

Text and greenhouse construction photos © Mark Hertzberg. Other photos courtesy of and © Emily Smith and Bill Orkild. Historic photos courtesy Betty Schacht, Sue and John Major and John Hime and ©  Frank Lloyd Wright gate lodge drawing: ©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

The final significant stage of the rehabilitation of Penwern is now complete.

Roses will bloom again this summer at the gate lodge greenhouse at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate – Penwern – on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin, perhaps for the first time since Jones’s death in 1933. Jones loved growing roses, so Wright included a commercially built greenhouse for him in his design for the gate lodge. The gate lodge and greenhouse were constructed in 1903, two years after the main house or “cottage.” The greenhouse was tucked between the north side of the gate lodge water tower and a boulder wall:

Avery_FLW_4207_007.jpg©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Avery_FLW_4207_005.jpg©2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Jones added a second greenhouse on the west side of the gate lodge at an undetermined date.

Historic_Scan_08a.jpgThe caretakers’ family near the second greenhouse, ca. 1935, courtesy Betty Schacht

The original greenhouse had deteriorated so badly by the 1970s that Terry Robbins Canty, whose parents Burr and Peg Robbins were the second stewards of Penwern, had it torn down and replaced by a carport when she lived in the gate lodge.

Gatehouse Greenhouse Vintage 1.jpgJohn Hime Collection – date unknown

Gatehouse Int. Yard View 004.jpgMark Hertzberg – 2014

20200403_151540.jpgEmily Smith – April 2020

Penwern had been significantly altered by the time John and Sue Major became stewards of most of the estate in 1994. They immediately began what has become a decades-long quest to bring Penwern back to Jones’s and Wright’s vision. They acquired the last piece of the estate – the gate lodge – after Canty’s death in 2000. Canty had also replaced a dining room window overlooking the gate lodge patio with doors when she added a small TV room (right side of exterior photo of the gate lodge, below). The carport, and most of the other alterations to the gate lodge, were undone within the next few years.

Canty Greenhouse Carport .jpegBill Orkild

Canty Gatehouse Porch.jpegBill Orkild

Canty Carport removal.jpegBill Orkild

The space where the original greenhouse stood has been like a missing tooth on a jack o’ lantern for almost 50 years. Could it be replicated? The Majors are not daunted by challenges. “No” is not in their vocabulary when it comes to the rehabilitation of Penwern. Didn’t they remove the large unsightly 1909 and 1910 additions that Jones had put on the main house? Didn’t they successfully fight for permission to rebuild the boathouse which had been destroyed by an arson fire in 1978? Why shouldn’t they rebuild the greenhouse, too?

Although the greenhouse is the most dramatic new addition to the estate, the 2020 summer season will now be remembered for the realization of a number of other projects around the gate lodge as well:

  1. A new stucco chimney, like the original one, replaces the brick chimney that has been atop the structure for years

20200403_142730.jpgBill Orkild – April 2020

20200403_142757.jpgBill Orkild – April 2020

2) The doors leading from the gate lodge dining room to the patio have been replaced by the original window, below right:

Gatehouse 207.jpgMark Hertzberg – 2013

20200311_135721.jpgBill Orkild – April 2020

3) And, finally, but not least, the original semicircular boulder wall east of the water tower has been reconstructed. Architectural designer Robert Hartmann, who had meticulously studied Wright’s drawings, realized that much of the wall was missing. The semicircular design was important because it echoes the trio of semicircular porches at the main house and the great arches at the house and the boathouse.

Avery_FLW_4207_002.jpg© 2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Orkild and Hartmann 001a.jpgHartmann, left, and Orkild look at Wright drawings – Mark Hertzberg -2017

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 026.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 035.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

20200406_085611.jpgEmily Smith – April 2020

One can easily surmise why the Majors undertook the greenhouse project, but let John Major tell us. “At one level, we rebuilt the greenhouse to complete the last piece of the original design. But, as we got into it, we realized that the greenhouse is a quintessential example of FLW design. Small becomes large; large becomes small; a huge space that minimally impacts the landscape around it. It’s to us, what FLW was all about. We’re expecting that people will be shocked. I know we are as it is coming together.” Shocked? “People were when we showed them the entry leading to the dining room for the first time. This will be more show.”

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 014.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 018.jpgTravis Orient places sklylight panels.  Mark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 021.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 022.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 025.jpgPaul Kenyon seals the panels. Mark Hertzberg – April 2020

Penwern Greenhouse 4.2.20 016.jpgMark Hertzberg – April 2020

Emily Smith – April 2020

And what about the rest of the work at the gate lodge? “The dining room is now better balanced and the view of the lakeside of the gatehouse is much more balanced as it was intended to be. The doors were put in when the previous owner added a small TV room. When we removed the TV room, we put off replacing the doors.  Once we found the original window, we were ready to complete the work.

“The brick chimney is being replaced with a stucco chimney as the original drawings say it should be [indeed early historic photos show the stucco chimney]. The brick chimney was ugly. The stucco chimney will be much nicer.”

The greenhouse will be a place for the Majors to entertain, which is fitting, because entertaining friends is arguably Penwern’s historic raison d’être. It was important, first to Jones, and then to the subsequent stewards of the estate. A nearly full kitchen will be adjacent, inside the base of the water tower. The walled area will have a patio and roses will bloom there.

Design work for the greenhouse and surrounding boulder wall was by DePietro Design Associates. Bill Orkild, master of most of the work at Penwern since the Majors came to the lake in 1994, rebuilt the wall, did the dining room work, and supervised the other work. The greenhouse was built by Arcadia Glasshouse of Madison, Ohio.

Orkild, who knows the estate more intimately than probably anybody in its history, offers his perspective on the project. “The challenges of this project were no different than many of the projects at Penwern. It is always a challenge to weave together old and new, Wright’s vision and practical use. Hiding new technology from view was another significant obstacle. The physical challenge of outdoor work in the winter, wresting boulders in excess of 200 pounds, and wet clay clinging to boots was a daily battle.

“My greatest takeaway from the project was an overwhelming positive feeling I received from working with so many smart, strong and enthusiastic young people.  It was a pleasure to see there bright eyes and beaming smiles every day.  They were strong enough to make up for my weakness, enthusiastic enough to work through the rain, wind and cold, smart enough to laugh at my jokes.  All is good with the world. The young people have this.”

20200403_140929.jpgPaul Kenyon, left, Jason Janke, and Travis Orient built the greenhouse. Emily Smith – 2020

Visitors to Penwern likely take Orkild’s work for granted. They should not. He is the Wizard of Penwern, and much happens behing the scenes before Orkild work his magic for us to see: “Here’s how I made the greenhouse perfectly plumb and square for a snug glass house fit.  I built a platform on top of the coping stone.  This guaranteed me square without movement and something to stand on.  In my shop, I built a precise end wall form with knee wall height and roof pitch.  Bracing the end wall form to the platform assured me plum.  Then I was able to saw cut, grind and chip out the original tower stone to create a flat channel to accept the end of the glass house.  The process was repeated on the north end to form a concrete ledge.

20200117_134213.jpgBill Orkild – 2020

20200120_125150.jpgBill Orkild – 2020

Bill Orkild -April 2020

Now you know how to do it for your next project,” Orkild writes, certainly with a grin, as he finishes his email message!

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

Penwern Greenhouse and Wall 8.7.19 015.jpg

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:

LR Gate Lodge 2nd floor, Greenhouse.jpg

LR DePietro Greenhouse 1 Side Elevation.jpg

LR DePietro Greenhouse Overall Plan.jpg

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.

LR Gate Lodge 1st floor, Greenhouse, Curved Wall.jpg

LR Orkild hat and Hartmann 001.jpgHartmann, left, and Orkild compare Wright’s drawings to buildings at Penwern.

LR Gate Lodge North, Greenhouse.jpg

Penwern Greenhouse and Wall 8.7.19 004.jpg

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.

Penwern Greenhouse and Wall 8.7.19 009.jpg

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.

Penwern Greenhouse and Wall 8.7.19 001.jpg

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 Publication Progress

(c) 2018 Mark Hertzberg / Book cover (c) 2018 Brad Norr Design

Sue and John Major, stewards of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (Penwern) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin asked me to write and photograph a book about Jones and about Penwern in 2013. The book is now finished and in the design stage, with publication next spring by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. We now have a cover to show you!

FLW Penwern_small.jpg

We never anticipated that this would be a five-year project, but it proved to be challenging to research the book, especially because there is no known extant correspondence between Jones and Wright. The book is based on as much original research as possible, and dispels a number of things that have been written about Penwern in the past (including the origin of the name of the estate). I found only a handful of photos of Jones, just one of him at Penwern likely taken when he was about 65, twenty-five years after Penwern was built. It was almost four years before I found any adjectives describing Jones’ affable personality, a quality I had guessed but could not document until Patrick J. Mahoney and Eric O’Malley unearthed obscure articles about Jones from 1888 and 1912 in a trade journal and in a newspaper article about his work.

Wisconsin Public Television videotaped an illustrated talk I give about Penwern at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House last spring. It is an hour long and can be viewed here:

https://wpt4.org/wpt-video/university-place/penwern-a-frank-lloyd-wright-summer-place-utz1yf/

But of course you need to buy the book to see many more contemporary and historic photographs and read much more about this wonderful estate and its stewards since 1900!

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:

LR Avery_FLW_4207_005.jpg

LR Avery_FLW_4207_003.jpg

LR Avery_FLW_4207_002.jpg

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_20a.jpg

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

LR Gate Lodge Greenhouse Rebuild 002.jpg

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

LR Greenhouse 007.jpg

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