Hillside floor plan published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright

Truth hiding in plain sight

This is a drawing of a building that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his aunts and their Hillside Home School. They ran the school, which was south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, for almost 30 years. Wright designed this structure for them in 1901. This drawing was published in 1910.

Previously, I wrote about the project I did with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation), about Wright’s Hillside structure on the Taliesin estate. This post is going to be about something I discovered during that project, which was a comprehensive chronology on Hillside.

About the project:

The Aunts ran the school from 1887-1915. We tried to look at the total history of the Hillside building, but also the history of the school. Since my job was to gather as much information as possible, I looked at old newspaper articles and had a lot of fun finding old facts, photographs, and drawings.

I tried to be objective about the site

So, when I started, I approached Hillside much as I approach Taliesin when studying it. That meant that I went over everything with a fine toothed comb. However, Hillside was never the same dealio (at least not as he’d originally built for his aunts: 1901-03.). That’s coz, Hello!—they were paying clients. Yes, they were his Aunts and they did love their nephew; but: still. He couldn’t mess around with their building. Not while they still had control of it!

And, because Wright was building this for someone else,

I could trust the Hillside drawings that Wright did for the original construction (unlike those he did for his home, Taliesin).

Still, only 12 drawings exist the first earliest years. 1 Three more drawings were done later: two were done in 1910 from a portfolio, known as the “Wasmuth”. That’s because the publisher in Berlin was Ernst Wasmuth. The floor plan from the Wasmuth is at the top of this post. I got it from an online version of the University of Utah Rare Books Collection.

Or if you’re feeling fancy, say the full title in German, since it was published in Germany. The original title is Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by…”). 

The last drawing of Hillside was done in 1941 for a retrospective of his work: In the Nature of Materials : The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright 1887-1941.

Looking over things:

In the Hillside Chronology project, I studied the drawings like I usually do: I try to look at historical evidence without preconceptions. Otherwise, it’s easy to only see things you want to see, and miss things staring you in the face. So, I looked at the early drawings of Hillside, inch by inch. And…

I finally noticed something

in one of the rooms.

This room, a long room ending in a point, is now known as the Dana Gallery. Look at the drawing at the top of this page. At the top of the drawing is a “T”. The left side of the “T” is the room known as the Dana Gallery today. This room was originally the Science room for the Hillside Home School. The right side of the “T” is another room that’s almost a mirror image of the Dana Gallery. That room, on the right side of the “T”, is now known as the Roberts Room and was  originally the Art room.

The names of the rooms (Dana Gallery, Roberts Room) come from two people who gave money to Wright’s aunts, the leaders of the Hillside Home School, when they were completing Wright’s building. Wright told the story about the names in the addition he made to his autobiography in 1943:

One of my clients, Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana, gave them the little Art and Science building next to the School building and equipment, complete. She loaned the Aunts twenty-seven thousand dollars more to help complete the main school building. Another client, Charles E. Roberts, 2 gave nine thousand dollars to help in a subsequent pinch….

Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 4: 1939-49. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1994), 125.

How the Dana Gallery/Roberts Rooms are alike:

Among other things (I’m sure) each room is accessible through 5 steps down from the floor above; has skylights; has a “prow” window (like a triangle coming out of the building) on the end; and a chimney.

Their fireplaces are different, though.

The fireplace in the Roberts Room has a horizontal piece of stone across the firebox. But the fireplace in the Dana Gallery has a design that looks really modern. Even though it, too, is in stone, there are triangles on the design, and either side of it has angles.

Here’s a photo of the Dana Gallery with the fireplace from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

Unknown photographer. Dated 1936-40. Property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #3301.0008.

The creation of the fireplace was detailed in a December 11, 1936 article in “At Taliesin”, written by Gene Masselink:

. . . . Last summer Mr. Wright commissioned Benny to complete a fireplace in three weeks.

So Benny lugged stone after stone into the Dana gallery.  He worked at it at all hours–you could hear him pounding away long after it was dark outside….  The design had been carefully worked out.  The lintel was six feet from the floor and the stones were all especially cut to form a pattern on the back of the fireplace.  It required skill and some engineering to properly construct the flue.  Finally with the help of five others Benny laid the greatest sandstone lintel block.  And that night at the celebration in honor of the job, the first fire was built.

Hans, solid German carpenter, declares it would never draw and even as the Fellowship held its breath and as the flames roared up, lighting the room with their best six foot height and the smoke went up the flue out into the moonlit night, Hans still shook his head.

We drank a toast: no one that night prouder or happier than Benny.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 225, 226.

Due to Gene’s writing:

I figured there had been a fireplace when Wright first designed for his aunts, then Benny redesigned the fireplace mantel to its current appearance. I mean, sure, the Dana Gallery had been the Science room—so maybe flammable things aren’t your first go-to in a design—but, on the other hand (a) the only flammable things I ever saw in my Chemistry classes were the controlled flames of Bunsen burners, and (b) Hillside’s gym also had a running track with a fireplace on the west side.

So, I just figured that those Hillside students weren’t “pantywaists” like I was by the time I was in grade school. 3 I mean, sure! Have open flames around those kids using chemicals, and exercising on the running track!

To get back to the point:

During the project with Anne, I looked more carefully at the Hillside drawings. And I saw, in drawing #0216.004 that, while the Roberts room originally had a chimney, the Dana Gallery did not:

Floor plan. #0216.004

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.004.

The chimney on the left had no fireplace, while the chimney on the right did. Looking more closely, the chimney at the Science room had two SINKS in front of it. With a WALL between them. I didn’t know what that was all about.

So, then I thought:

look at the Wasmuth drawing

Because I knew he labelled things in it. Yes, they were in German, and I don’t have a German-to-English dictionary, but there’s Google translate.

So I looked at it. The chimney in the Dana Gallery (the chimney on the left) has this in all caps: DUNKEL RAUM

That means:

Dark room

Of course!

Hillside was a school out in the country. Teach those kids photography! That’s why there’s a scrapbook of photographs taken of Hillside in 1906, now at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  

If you take a tour of the Taliesin estate that brings you through Hillside (their Estate or Highlights tours), you can see where the dark room’s wall was. You go into the Dana Gallery, and the shadow of in the wall of the dark room is on the floor, like what I took, below:

But unfortunately I’ve never seen a photograph showing the walls of the dark room. The photograph below shows you about what’s been seen of the room when the Aunts ran the school. You can see how it was a science classroom:

Black and white photograph of the Science Room at the Hillside Home SchoolFirst published February 9, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post was published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by Frank Lloyd Wright”) in Berlin in 1910. I’ve put it here in part because I do not know who has the rights to it.


1. I’ve wondered if there were more. 

2. This link only brings you to the page on Wikipedia about the Charles E. Roberts Stable (although it tells you a bit about the man himself). There’s no Wikipedia page about the Charles E. Roberts House, though. If you were feeling generous and had the interest or patience, you should write about it.

3. That’s what one of the nuns called us in the 8th grade because we weren’t fighting in the Falkland Islands war. That’s not a statement about Catholic schools; just a statement about a weird moment as a kid. As I’ve gotten older that statement makes less and less sense.

Abstract drawing. Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Gene Masselink

Abstraction looking (plan) north at Taliesin against the hill in Wisconsin.
Pen, ink, and paint. By Gene Masselink.

Eugene Meyer “GeneMasselink (1910-1962): Taliesin Fellowship, 1933 until his death. This post will be about him, and why I like him.

Gene was born in South Africa, then his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he grew up with his brother, Ben. A talented visual artist, Gene came into the Fellowship with a BS in painting from Ohio State University. The Taliesin Fellowship wasn’t only a group for architectural apprentices, and Gene didn’t join intent on doing architecture. He did, however, paint and illustrate within the group for years, including the image of Taliesin up at the top of this page.

And, as many Fellowship members did, he helped build models. Here’s a 1936 photograph by Edmund Teske showing Gene working a model of the Johnson Wax building:

Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
Photograph of Gene Masselink taken in 1936 by Edmund Teske.

How Gene became the secretary:

When he came into the Fellowship in 1933, Karl Jensen was the secretary (this is a photo of Jensen at Taliesin). Gene became Karl’s assistant. Therefore, when Karl left in 1934, Gene took over the job. Subsequently, Gene became was one of the “triumvirate” of crucial Fellowship members. This triumvirate was composed of Gene, Wes (Peters, engineer), and Jack (Howe, head draftsman). The Fellowship wouldn’t have been the same without Gene, just like it wouldn’t have been the same without Wes & Jack.

He:

  • Kept Wright’s correspondence—with friends, family, and clients—on track and up-to-date through all of the traveling back and forth from Wisconsin to Arizona.
  • Followed the bills—which, as you can imagine, were quite complicated when it came to Wright.
  • Learned to how to run the printing press. Thus, Gene became the resident pressman, printing the 1943 edition of Wright’s autobiography.1

In fact, on the last page of his 1943 autobiography, Wright specifically thanked Gene:

Gene (Masselink) of the Fellowship and his helpers have untangled day by day, month by month, the mass of inter-lined and defaced scripts that would tease anyone, especially myself. Gene is the only one who could read them.

Having both seen Wright’s handwriting, and his small edits that are hard to keep track of, I applaud Wright’s recognition of Gene’s work.

Here’s Gene with a couple of “the boys” and The Master:

Frank Lloyd Wright and 4 apprentices in Taliesin's Drafting Studio, 1930s.Looking (plan) northwest at Wright at a drafting table in the Taliesin studio. Standing behind him are (L-R): Gene Masselink, Bennie Dombar, Edgar Tafel, and Jack Howe. This photograph is from the Associated Press and is in the public domain. The Library of Congress says the photo was taken in 1953. However, they’re wrong. Wright was not in his 80s in the photograph above, and both Bennie and Edgar left the Fellowship in 1941. This photograph, on the other hand, has Gene and Wright in this same room in the 1950s.2

Yet, this is not a post about him just as an artist. No, I decided to write about Gene today because I just genuinely like the man (who passed away before I was born). Gene’s way of keeping everything together at Taliesin reminds me a little of the character of Walter “Radar” O’Reilly from M*A*S*H*.

He jumped in as, I think, Wright envisioned the Fellowship—everyone together, all for one, one for all. And he seemed to have a sense of humor about all of it. You’ll see it in his “At Taliesin” article from 1935 below.

Examples:

Below, Gene writes about his responsibilities as the secretary in the August 4, 1935 “At Taliesin”:

“Have I a little list?  Koko was only an amateur with his.

Remember in “Physical Taliesin history” (fn1) how I said that working at Taliesin made me learn about things? I just learned how “I have a little list” is related to Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Lists – lists everywhere and lists for everything.  Large important Madison lists on large white paper.  Spring Green lists on any old paper.  Dodgeville grocery and butcher lists on ruled note-pads from the kitchen.  Lists typewritten and lists handwritten in every kind of pen and or pencil within reach.  Lists lost and half remembered – they flutter about me dominating my kingdom of letters and articles and filing cards and endless odds and ends of what is bravely called “business”.  The word should be spelled busy-ness, or why not busy-mess.  But the list is only embryo compared with the listers actually getting what the list lists.  There are so few who will stand to wait longer than three days for what they’ve listed and at the end of that time a package of cigarettes or “Plowboy” or “Red Man” or one spool of thread or a pound of 6-penny casing nails will assume terrific proportions.  Not my peach only but my life is continually jeopardized by little lists.

….

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 147-148.

Gene about listening to the radio!

This links to my love of Old Time Radio that I wrote about in this post.

Gene was in the hospital after breaking his hip and was bedridden. He wrote about his experience in the hospital, and about passed the time listening to the radio:

AT TALIESIN, June 11, 1937

. . .  After this is all over and I’m selling apples on some street corner, this Radio will sell apples with me.  My mind has become so controlled by its direction that any sudden break from its supervision would be fatal.

         The Life problems of Bill and Mary and Susan and Jim of all the Tom Dick and Harrys radio story tellers can think of are my problems now.  And let me say that these problems are without parallel in the history of literature.  Each day fresh heartaches and new situations keep the agony of life constantly on the run and bring vicarious sorrow into the lives of Americans, incidentally make my own hip-problem only the most minor consideration for me to think of. . . .

It has opened the walls of this tiny room to a world many times removed and I maintain wherever I go it shall go.

Its love me, love my Radio from now on.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, 267-268.

Gene by someone else:

Former apprentice Curtis Besinger dedicated his 1995 book, Working With Mr. Wright: What it Was Like, to Gene Masselink. Besinger wrote,

As Mr. Wright’s secretary for many years, Gene’s grace, awareness, and sense of humor served to anticipate and ameliorate many of the strains of Fellowship life. Unfortunately he didn’t live to write the book which in some stress-filled situation he threatened to write: “Mr. Wright goes to New York…, to Italy… to Paris

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), xiv.

Finally, his work:

In the 1950s, Gene began designing murals for the following buildings by Wright:

While Masselink’s original icons were removed from the altar, they can still be seen in the basement. See Mark Hertzberg’s blog post about the church to see photographs of the icons.

Others have investigated his work. Check these out:

Published January 31, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

1. I can’t imagine that would have been possible for him to print all of the copies of the 1943 edition of the autobiography. However, I’ve seen letters that Gene wrote to Jack Howe, describing the activities. Plus, “Gene’s Press Room” is the name of a room at Taliesin.

2. Bonus: the Wisconsin Historical Society has another photograph taken of Gene that day. He’s seen in the same clothes walking in Taliesin’s Garden Court with another Fellowship member, Kay Rattenbury (1918-1996).