Colored postcard of the Home Building, Frank Lloyd Wright's first design.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones that is.

I have to approach them that way—

As the Big Boy’s Aunts

—or I wouldn’t get as much interest on this post.

They were the first of the Lloyd Joneses born in Wisconsin. Their three brothers and three surviving sisters (including Wright’s mother) had been born in Wales, starting in 1830. Aunt Nell was born in 1845, and Aunt Jennie in 1848.

My post today will be about them. That’s because

on March 9, 1887

Aunt Nell wrote to her nephew

            newly arrived in Chicago

about working on a building plan.

That building (in the photo at the top of this post) would be the newest construction on their planned school; as well as the first structure that Wright ever designed.

Hold on a moment.

before I get to Nell’s letter, I want to write more about the Aunts.

They never married and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Normal School in 1870. Here’s a photo from the class of 1870, below.

A photograph in sepia tone of two young women with dark hair.

25 year-old Nell is on the left, and 22-year-old Jennie is on the right.

This is my screengrab of the photograph by John Robertson, at the University of Wisconsin—Platteville. Archives and Area Research Center. Local Identifier: Record #889.

You can see the page with the whole photo of the class here.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has a photo of them at their school after 1887:

Aunt Nell is on the left with the white hair.

Nell’s white hair:

Wright’s sister, Maginel, wrote about this in The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses:

Aunt Nell’s face had been badly scarred by smallpox… and her hair had turned snow white during the illness. Once, years later, she told me about it. At the time she fell ill she had been engaged to a young man with whom she was deeply in love…. then,… she was stricken, and lay for weeks horribly ill…..

            When her fiancé came to see her he was appalled. He stayed for awhile, and… promised to return the next day. He never came back….

            “Oh,” I said to her, “Aunt Nell, how did you bear it? What did you do?”

        She gave me a grim little smile. “I hoed onions, my dear,” she said. “I just hoed onions all summer long.”…

            Maginel Wright Barney, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses: Reminiscences of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sister (Unity Chapel Publications, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1965), 118-120.

Onions?

Did Nell have onions on her belt because that was the style at the time?

No.

During the American Civil War, people were asked to raise onions which could be sent to the soldiers to protect against scurvy.1

Did Maginel also write about Jennie’s personal life?2

Here’s part of what Maginel wrote:

   Aunt Jennie… was merry and animated…. It was she who told me stories of the family’s beginnings in Wales, and of their venturing to the primeval forests in Wisconsin…. Aunt Jennie had a romantic heart; yet she never married….

“The Valley of the….”, 119-120.

Some of Maginel’s memories are wrong. She wrote that Jenkin was 16 when he joined the Army. Jenk, the last of the Lloyd Jones children born in Wales, was born in 1843. The Civil War started in 1861, when he was 18. So, they must have been raising onions for the troops at that time, too. Maginel wrote that Nell’s hair went white the summer she had recovered from Small pox and had her heart broken.

Yet

the photo in 1870 of the graduating class from UW-Platteville shows Nell with jet-black hair.

So, either Nell conflated the story of the heartbreak and hoeing onions, or her niece Maginel did. Or maybe Nell had her heart broken twice.

As for Jennie –

Why didn’t she marry? Jennie told Maginel that she just couldn’t say yes to any of the men who asked her to marry them.

Maybe that contributed to the story Taliesin tour guides had created when I was there: that the two sisters vowed never to marry because one was romantically wounded.

Well, their decision to devote their lives to education is good for all of us.

Because they created and ran the Hillside Home School for 28 years.

1887 to 1915

NOW

I get to why I’m writing today. In early 1887, Jennie and Nell decided to start their school in The Valley.

Nell taught history at the normal school in River Falls, Wisconsin, and Jennie was then an instructor in a kindergarten teacher training school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Then Nell wrote to “My Dear Frank“,

Nell wrote “I heard you have been down to Hillside to look the ground over”.

SO, obviously the Aunts had spoken to him before about designing a building.

And while an unknown woman, “Miss Daniels”, had been drawing the beginning of the plan, “Miss D.—” didn’t feel it was finished/good enough.

            Then Nell wrote details about the plan on what they wanted.

The new building

  • Should face east
  • The first floor would have a room of 26 X 28 feet [67.6 square meters] to be used as a parlor or perhaps dining, and have an open staircase
  • One upstairs bathroom
  • Several small rooms – 6?
  • And two larger rooms over the kitchen
    • I’m guessing those rooms were the Aunts’ bedrooms

She wrote a few more things, like that they didn’t need closets. And they hoped to start “in the spring”.

Then Nell finished her letter with,

I hope you are well, happy and satisfying Mr. Silsbee.3

 I write in great haste but with much love

Ellen C. Lloyd Jones to Frank Lloyd Wright, March 9, 1887. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, FICHEID: J001A03.

Construction on the building didn’t start in the spring, but they finished it in November.

We know that because of the “Home News”

It tells us that the Hillside Home School opened the week of September 22. And, then there’s this in the Home News from

the week of November 10

Frank Lloyd Wright of J.L. Silsbee architectural firm of Chicago here to finish up details and supervise the clearing and grading of grounds.  “Mr. Wright is an able young artist and if all had a ‘barrel of money’ with which to carry out his attractive mansion and cottage plans they might be happy yet.”

It’s likely this positive description came from The Aunts. Because Wright himself was just 20 years old.

More links:

Georgia Snoke (a member of the Lloyd Jones family, from the Jenkin Line), crafted a nice write-up on the Aunts from unitychapel.org (the website kept by the Lloyd Jones family). That page is available at this link: http://www.unitychapel.org/the-aunts.

Georgia provides information on the Aunts’ emotional lives, which may help to illuminate why these two women never married.

The photograph at the top of this post looks up and west at the Home Building that Wright designed for the Hillside Home School in 1887.
It’s available in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, Illustrated by Vintage Post Cards, by Randolph C. Henning, 87.
First published February 7, 2024.


Notes

1. “Onions were used to protect against scurvy” is another thing I learned while working at Taliesin.

2. Why do you keep calling her Jennie when The Master called her Jane?

She was known as Jennie all over the place. She was identified as that in the UW-Platteville photo, on photos of her while the Hillside Home School ran, and by Maginel in “Valley of the God-Almighty…”. As I wrote in my first Hillside Home School post, Wright’s sister was named Jane, but known as Jennie. So I think that’s why Wright referred to his aunt as Jane. I’m insistent on this because it seems that she wanted to be known as Jennie.

3. Wright’s first employer, Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848-1913).

Photograph of a portion of the Taliesin estate. Taken in March 2004.

Easy Info on Frank Lloyd Wright

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Looking (true) west toward the Taliesin estate from the edge of the parking area of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

I’m working on my next post. So, I figured I would throw out easy dates and pieces of information about Wright and Hillside to give you a little amusement.

Wright’s height:

5 feet, 8-and-a-half inches tall (1.74 m).

That’s what they tell you when you go to the Oak Park Home and Studio. His passport in 1905 has that height, and it makes sense to me.

In addition,

His height in the photograph below might help to prove it. It was published in 2014 in the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly (the publication from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation):

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery and Architectural Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)
Published in the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Summer 2014, v. 25, no. 3, p. 11.

He’s standing standing against the big stone pier in Taliesin’s Breezeway with the Taliesin Drafting Studio to his right.

When I saw that photo, I grabbed a tape measure and drove up to Taliesin. I realized the pier could be used as a way to figure out the man’s height. When I got there, I measured the height from where he was standing to the bottom of the stone that you see above his head that sticks out a little bit from the pier.

The height to the bottom of that stone was—I SH*T YOU NOT—5 feet 8 inches tall.

Now, he was leaning a little, and the angle is different and other things have changed, but that was the height.

I remember it because you remember something 5’8″ tall when it comes to Wright.

I can’t tell you his shoe size, though.

Ok, onward:

What day was Wright born?

June 8, 1867 (I wrote about it on this page).

What color was his hair?

Brown, before it went white.

His eye color? His son, John Lloyd Wright, when describing his father, wrote:

Brown eyes full of love and mischief, a thick pompadour of dark wavy hair – that is my father when I think of him as he was when I was very young.”

John Lloyd Wright’s book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (Dover Publications, 1992; first published as My Father Who Is On Earth, in 1946), 25.

However,

in this 1959 photo taken at Taliesin West, Wright has distinctly non-brown eyes:

Color photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mike Siegal. Seattle Times. TNS.

And then there was this color photo on the cover of the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly. His eyes look light brown. What the hell:

Cover of the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly volume 16, no. 1

It appears the two photographs were taken on the same day.

Regardless, perhaps John remembered his father’s eyes being brown, but apparently your eye color can change, which makes my musing moot.

Did Wright ever talk to his dad after his parents split up?

(they divorced in 1885)

Apparently not, according to biographer Meryle Secrest.

And apparently, he didn’t go to his father’s funeral. Wright’s dad, William Wright, died on June 6, 1904 while living with one of his other sons in Pittsburgh. Architectural historian Robert Twombly noted that in his biography on Wright.

His father isn’t buried in Pennsylvania: his remains are in the Brown Church cemetery in Bear Valley, Wisconsin, about 20 miles from Taliesin. Of course, in 1904, Wright lived in Oak Park, IL.

Yet,

Wright didn’t go to his mother’s funeral, either. She died on February 9, 1923 and is buried at the Unity Chapel cemetery within sight of Taliesin. There’s no evidence that Wright was at her funeral. It’s hard to believe it since the chapel is down the road from his home, so it makes me think he was in California working.

Now let’s look at Hillside

The building on the Taliesin estate that Wright originally designed for his aunts in 1901.

Did Wright design furniture for it?

Apparently not. It doesn’t show up in photos or the few drawings that still exist for the building.

Plus,

I searched for them, just in case there were drawings that hadn’t been recognized in his archives. I did that in 2009 while Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation) and I were working on the Hillside Chronology.

That’s how I ended up finding the drawing of Taliesin 1 for the first time.

I wrote about the second time I found a Taliesin drawing, here.1

Did Wright ever design stained glass for it?

No.

Even though he was doing lots of stained glass designs at that time, Hillside just had diamond-pane glass.

It’s economic, and Hillside was (is) in the countryside. Here’s a photo showing a boy outside of the building. You can see the the glass on the right hand side of the photo:

PHotograph of boy in striped, long-sleeved shirt and shorts in summer, with buildings behind him.
Wisconsin Historical Society, Lewis, John P. : Wright collection, 1869-1968.
Image ID: 84042

You can see the photo in my post, “Another Find at Hillside“, which explains the building on the left hand side of the photo.

Will the diamond-pane glass at Hillside ever come back?2

No.

Wright began looking for replacement glass at Hillside while prepping for the Taliesin Fellowship in the summer of 1932. So he definitely did not want the diamond-pane glass there.

On July 20 of that year

his first letter (ID: M031B09), to Mautz Paint and Glass Co. in Madison, Wisconsin (now owned by Sherwin Williams) apparently went unanswered.

Neither did

the letter (ID# P015A05) written on August 23 to the Patek Brothers in Milwaukee.

However,

they had luck with the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, which sent glass to Wright and Hillside on December 20 (as seen in ID #P018B05). 

I do not know how Wright paid for it, but the shipped glass might have been in the condition that Wright first asked for from the Mautz Paint and Glass Co. The letter to that company asked for glass that was once known as “cull-plate,” or any “second hand plate in any proportion.”

Sounds like he was trying to get rejects, or returned glass. That way he could have done it by just paying for the shipping.

Wright could have changed the glass later when he had money, but he didn’t. So, again: the diamond-plane glass isn’t coming back.

 

First published December 18, 2023.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in March 2004.


Notes:

1. Someone should pay me to do this stuff since I’m so good at it.

2. The guides asked that a couple of times while I worked at Taliesin and did the

 

question and answer feature.

This is drawing number 4930.006 in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Library, Columbia University, New York).

I found another Taliesin drawing

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is drawing number 4930.006 in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Library, Columbia University, New York).

Two years ago I wrote here about when I found a Taliesin drawing of bunkbeds for a room at Taliesin in 1911.

srsly: someone needs to give me a commission for suggesting that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation use this to market Wright-designed bunkbeds.

My post today is about another Taliesin drawing I found.

Several months ago I went looking at the drawings that show Wright’s drawings related to buildings on the Taliesin estate.

I did that because researching things related to Taliesin makes me happy.

C’mon: you know you’re not surprised.

You can see the drawings from 1910 at the Wasmuth Portfolio and in a number of books. But you can see also a lot of online black and white photos in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives through Artstor.

Artstor is:

a nonprofit organization that builds and distributes the Digital Library, an online resource of more than 2.5 million images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences, and Shared Shelf, a Web-based cataloging and image management software service that allows institutions to catalog, edit, store, and share local collections.

Every drawing in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archive has an identification number. The first four digits of each ID comprise the project number.

So, like, all drawings for Wright’s Guggenheim Museum commission start with “4305.”

The first two numbers are because the commission started in 1943. Bruce Pfeiffer (a member of the Taliesin Fellowship who became the archivist for Wright’s collection) numbered the Gugg as that year’s 5th commission. So: 4305.1

I’ve got the project numbers for all of Wright’s buildings on the Taliesin estate. So I searched for those numbers at ARTSTOR.

You can do it, too, if you have the time. Just go to this page. Might not be something you want to do in the summer, but you could. Sure, you could!

One of the building projects that I studied was labelled:

#4930

4930 were drawings executed during the planned renovation of the “Home Building” at Hillside. Hillside is one of the buildings on the Taliesin estate. If you’ve taken a tour that went anywhere near the Hillside building, your guide might have told you about the Home Building. It stood there from 1887-1950, and is part of the site’s history.

In 1887, Wright designed the building for his aunts, Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones when they were planning their new school (see the whole history of it here).

You can find lots of photos of the Home Building at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Here’s one below:

Black and white photograph of the Home Building at the Hillside Home School. Real photo postcard at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

From a postcard. Photo taken 1887-1915 (although probably pre-1915). Looking northwest at the Home Building. The postcard says “Hillside Home School”, which was the name of the school, but not the name of the building. Wright’s later Hillside Home School building (the stone building) was built to the left of the building you see in the photo.

When Wright published his autobiography in 1932, he described the building as “designed by amateur me and built by Aunt Nell and Aunt Jennie in 1887 to mother their forty or fifty boys and girls.”2  

Actually, he was so young when he first designed it, that none of the detailed drawings survive.3 But here’s part of what Aunt Nell wrote to the young Wright after he’d arrived in Chicago:

…. Do not take time to make elegant drawings if you are busy but send a rough sketch of what you think the best plan as soon as you can – as we hope to get men at work upon it as soon as the ground is fit in the spring….

 I write in great haste but with much love –

                        Aunt Nell4

Really: it was not a bad building for a 19-year-old to design.

After Wright’s aunts closed their school in 1915, the building and grounds stood idle for years.

Then,

in 1932 he and wife Olgivanna started the Taliesin Fellowship (his apprentice program).

The photo below

Shows work taking place at the Home Building. Apprentice Edgar Tafel took it and it’s published in his book, Apprentice to Genius. The photo was taken in 1932-33:

Looking northeast at two people working near the Home Building during its initial renovation. Photo in Apprentice to Genius, p. 29.

We saw this side of the building in the earlier photo. In the photo above, we’re looking northeast. In the earlier photo, we were looking northwest.

Apparently, he wanted to do a lot more, but he never got around to it.

Yet in 1949, he addressed the building again.

And that’s how come,

Bruce numbered this collection of drawings “4930”.

When I looked at them, I realized one of them wasn’t the Home Building at all.

Drawing 4930.006 is part of Taliesin. In fact,

the drawing shows the old dining room

I put the drawing of the old dining room on the left next to the drawing in the collection for 4930 on the right:

There were a few things in the drawing I recognized. The main thing is saw was the fireplace. It’s shaped like an upside down “T”. Not that far from it is the “entry” and the “cooling” room, just like they were in that part of the building. You can see where Wright drew little tables and chairs in figuring out the seating. 

I then sent the compared drawings to Kyle Dockery, the Wisconsin onsite Collections Coordinator for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. He agreed that I found another Taliesin drawing. He thought 4930.006 shows Wright expanding the room. Which is why he had that large part (also shaped like a “T”) coming off on the left.

After this, I wrote my thoughts to someone at the Avery Library, since they have the drawings. I gave them my theory and sent them the comparison drawings. Shelley (from the Avery) wrote me back, agreeing with me and thanking me for my “meticulous eye”.5

By the way:

the continuation of the renovation was halted in 1950 when Wright ordered his apprentices to destroy the building. Leading to this fantastic photo of Wright “conducting a symphony of destruction”:

 

You can see it on page 6 of The Harvester World at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The image above links to that page of the magazine.

Why did he get rid of the Home Building?

It was part of Wright’s “cleaning up” of Hillside over the years. I think he did this because Hillside became his testing ground for large-scale designs. Here’s a photo of the walk up to Hillside that he created:

black and white photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside building by Maynard Parker, 1955.Photograph that Maynard Parker took for House Beautiful magazine in 1955. Looking east at the Hillside Home School structure.

Because of the Home Building, for years you really could not have gotten a view like Parker got in the photo above. The Home Building would have stood right in the way of the photographer.

 

First published July 2, 2023.
The drawing at the top of this page is property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and is from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art|Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia, New York).


Notes:

1. I think the second number is the commission for that year. No one ever told me, but it seems logical.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 129.

3. One was published at the time in Inland Architect. It’s on this page.

4. Nell Lloyd Jones to Frank Lloyd Wright on March 9, 1887. FICHEID #: J001A03

5. Someday I’d like to get to the archives and look at everything they haven’t identified.

Black and white photograph of John and Marybud Lautner outside at Taliesin, 1933-34. By Hank Schubart.

Taliesin Kitties

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph of future architect (then apprentice) John Lautner (1911-1994) and wife Mary Faustina Roberts Lautner (“Marybud”, 1913-1995) standing at the southwest corner of Taliesin’s hill crown.  Behind them is the chimney that served the dining rooms of the Taliesin Fellowship and the Wrights. I wrote about this space, here. The photo was taken by apprentice and later architect, Hank Schubart (1916-1998).

This is going to be a cat-themed post. But it does have a connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, I swear!

Let me explain….

Here are my cats, Wes and Gene:

Color photo of cats Wes and Gene on the floor.

This is a photo of them lying on the kitchen floor. My husband says they’re competing in the synchronized cat napping nationals.

Now, the names “Wes” and “Gene” are related to Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin. But I was not completely in charge of them being named Wes and Gene.

— well, ok, yes, actually, I was, since I was the one who first decided to name them that.

However —

I was not the person who focused my attention on names related to Taliesin.

You see,

in 2015, 5 kittens showed up on the Taliesin estate. Cats aren’t there all the time, but they do (and can) show up. Sometimes they are owned by residents at Taliesin. Or, sometimes they take up residence. At least one of these cats became internationally famous.

In fact,

anyone who took a tour at Taliesin starting in the late 1990s up to the twenty-teens met this cat. She was a long-haired calico named Sherpa.

Color photograph of the calico cat, Sherpa at Taliesin on a stone wall. Photo by Keiran Murphy

Sherpa laying on a stone wall outside of the old Taliesin Fellowship dining room (it functions currently as an office and sometimes a guest room).

Sherpa appeared in the Taliesin tour program in the late 1990s. She lived at the Hillside structure and had one litter of kittens that delighted visitors.

the summer at Hillside with Sherpa and her kittens meant lots of real-time lessons on working with animals. There was no way you could talk about Wright’s history or ideas when there were 3 or 4 adorable kittens playing and jumping over each other on the deck at the edge of Hillside’s dining room (a photo of the deck is in a photo at Flickr, here).

After the season’s end, Sherpa was caught and spayed. By this time, she already walked in front of several tours at Taliesin, so she was given the name Sherpa. Since the Taliesin estate was basically her home, she settled in closer to the Taliesin building and began to “lead tours” there.1

That was because she knew where the guides went on tours, so she would walk ahead of the guides and group.

She appeared on a magazine cover

after a group of Japanese architects took a tour. They were as delighted by Sherpa as by the architecture. So one photo they took of her ended up on the cover of a magazine, below:

Back to Wes and Gene:

I hadn’t known about the kittens until I mentioned the desire for cats to a coworker at Taliesin Preservation. I was searching for a home, and having cats was on the agenda. Then she asked, “did you hear about the Taliesin kittens?”

The kindle of five domestic shorthaired kittens had arrived in late spring. They were big enough to make themselves known to the students at the School of Architecture, who were then in session and living at Wright’s Hillside building.

Since they appeared on the Taliesin estate, my coworker, the students, and staff at the local vet clinic knew them as the “Taliesin kittens”. As I had already decided I wanted two male kittens, it took me less than 10 minutes to come up with the names Wes and Gene.

PLEASE NOTE: I decided immediately that I was NOT going to name them Frank and Lloyd, or Lloyd and Wright.

No, I’m not a cat lady! I’m just a Frankophile!

While I have not written on my blog about Wright’s son-in-law and engineer, Wes Peters, I did write about Gene Masselink last year.

Are they worthy of their names?

Wes is a little like Wes Peters, because he’s really big. But, while I love the guy, Gene is not worthy of the memory of Eugene Masselink.

And how did Wright feel about cats?

I don’t know.

In fact, I don’t know how Wright felt about domesticated animals overall. Except for horses. He long admired them and rode them as long as he was able.  The photograph below is Wright on a horse outside of the Hillside school building.2 The photo was taken in the 1950s.

Color photograph--Frank Lloyd Wright at the Hillside Home School on a horse with his wife Olgivanna and apprentice, Joe Fabris. Photo by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer.

Photograph of Wright on a horse to the east of the Assembly Hall at the Hillside Home School. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright stands on the right and apprentice, Joe Fabris, is wearing the t-shirt.

However, there is the doghouse:

That’s right: in 1956, 12-year-old Jim Berger wrote Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the son of clients Robert and Gloria Berger, who built their Wright house in San Anselmo, California. Jim asked Wright to design a home for their dog, Eddie. Jim would pay for the plans and materials through money he earned on his paper route. This link from the Smithsonian Magazine shows you the whole story, and Jim’s initial letter to Wright.

In addition,

Olgivanna Lloyd Wright liked dogs and you can find photos online of the Wrights sitting together outside at Taliesin West with her dog, Casanova. Casanova appears with Frank Lloyd Wright in the Garden Room (the living room) at Taliesin West. They’re on the webpage, “Five stylish men with dogs“. 

 

First published February 8, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Hank Schubart and is in The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Hank Schubert collection, 6501.0140.


Notes:

1 We used to do a 1 mile, all exterior Walking Tour. Sherpa would show up when we were with our groups on the road below Taliesin, and walk in front of us to Hillside. She would hang out at Hillside until the Walking tour came by in the afternoon. Then she would lead the later tour back to Taliesin, where the tours began.

2 This link shows you 94-year-old Joe Fabris at Wright’s Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK. It gives you a nice overview of that space. Joe is seen speaking to the Price Tower curator of Collections and Exhibitions (Hi, Scott!).

 
Looking northwest at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside building during April 26, 1952 fire

1952 fire at Hillside

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Looking northeast at the southern facade of the Hillside building while the smoke still looms in its April 26, 1952 fire. I don’t know who took this photograph. It came from a newspaper article that was given to the Preservation office probably in the 1990s.

As someone who worked at Taliesin, you got used to dealing with questions about fire on the Taliesin estate. Of course, there were the two Taliesin fires,

but that’s not all!

In 1952, a big fire took place at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside building on the south part of the Taliesin estate. That fire happened in April of that year. So, today I’ll talk about the fire and one of Hillside’s rooms affected by it.

I started this after a request:

Someone asked me about the Hillside theater, and its history, a few days ago. As sometimes happens, I know something really well, but don’t know what others don’t know at all. This had great timing, because

the Hillside fire happened nearly 70 years ago

on April 26, 1952.

And I’m trying to push away the knowledge that this means that drummer Stewart Copeland turns 70 this July. Copeland was in the band, The Police (which I adored as a teenager; hence the automatic knowledge on Copeland’s age; he was born on July 16, 1952 btw).

So, follow me while I talk about the original space at Hillside.

The old theater

The Hillside Theater is in the gymnasium Wright designed in 1901 for his Aunts’ Hillside Home School.1 Here’s a photo of the Hillside building when the Aunts ran the school. The gymnasium is on the photo’s far left-hand side:

Page 7 from "In the Valley of the Clan" booklet by William Hudson Harper.
Booklet located in the Wisconsin Historical Society. Collection: Lloyd Jones (Jane Lloyd Jones Correspondence, 1899-1940; Wisconsin Historical Society, Box 1).

The photo is in the booklet, “In the Valley of the Clan: The Story of a School”.

The booklet is on-line

at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The photo above is on page 7.

The inside of the gym is in the next photo:

Photograph looking east at the stage in the Hillside Home School gym.

Circa 1903 photo looking east in the Hillside Home School gym and its stage. The gym’s running track was behind the horizontal boards above the stage. Unknown photographer.
Taken from a Hillside booklet owned by Peggy Travers, whose mother went to the Hillside school.

In 1932, when Wright started the Taliesin Fellowship, he redesigned the gym into a theater that he named “the Playhouse”. So, in the first years his apprentices were changing things at his house so they could live there.

(like Edgar Tafel talked about in the book I recommended, Apprentice to Genius).

But they also immediately started renovating the gym into the Playhouse. Like, they took the gym’s running track and rehung it so it was on several different levels.

I don’t know what good that did, but it looked really cool.

Here’s a good drawing of it:

Drawing of Hillside Playhouse Theater from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives.
Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #3303.014.

The modified running track is on the upper right. A modified version of this drawing was painted onto plywood. Every Sunday that plywood placard was put alongside the 2-lane highway (Hwy 23) as advertisement for movies at the Playhouse.
You’ll be able to see the placard once the Hillside Theater opens back up after the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation completes its restoration.
Here’s a video discussion of their current restoration work.

1933 photo of the Playhouse when it was ready to open:

Taken by Angus Vicar. He took the photo the weekend before the Playhouse opened on November 1st, 1933:

Photograph by Angus Vicar. October 27 1933. Property of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Wisconsin Historical Society. Collection name: Photo Copy Service: Photo Copy Service photographs and negatives, 1925-1983.
Collection No.: 4245-B.

All this, despite a lack of Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy saying,

come on! Let’s put on a show!

The simple benches you see were constructed by a furniture maker in the Fellowship, Manuel Sandoval. He made them out of newly-cut oak. The “girls” in the Fellowship sewed the seat cushions.

So, movies at the Playhouse were the first public interface by the Taliesin Fellowship. They ran weekly, with apprentices in charge of manning the projector, introducing the movie, preparing coffee or tea for refreshments, and taking money from patrons.

Movies cost 50¢. For a dollar, you could watch the movie as well as get a tour with an apprentice.

This is how hardy we used to be:

That first winter, the Playhouse didn’t have radiator heat. Read this in an “At Taliesin” newspaper article on February 1, 1934:

“The new heating system is in operation, and made the theatre quite comfortable when weather conditions were unfavorable last Sunday.”
No named author. Transcribed from the published article by Randolph C. Henning, but not published in the 1992 “At Taliesin” book edited by Henning.

Eventually, the Wrights and the Fellowship began going to Arizona in the winter (as I noted in this post). Then, as the NEH story states, Wright found the land in Scottsdale in late 1937. The Fellowship then began building Taliesin West as its winter quarters.

In 1952, the Wrights and the Fellowship were returning from their winter when the Hillside fire happened. It destroyed the Playhouse, plus everything to the east up to the Assembly Hall. A stone foyer to the west of the Playhouse (added a few years before) was also untouched.

Below is a transcription of part of a newspaper story about the fire. It comes from the May 1, 1952 edition of Spring Green’s newspaper, the Weekly Home News:

Taliesin School Re-Born on Paper

As Flames Destroy Old Structure

…. Taliesin’s third major fire (the previous two destroyed the house) started late Saturday afternoon [April 26] when a rubbish fire, left unattended, swept toward the building as the wind shifted. A floor containing living quarters above the student dining room was destroyed first; then the flames spread into the theater and reduced it to ashes.           

“I lit that rubbish fire myself,” Wright readily admitted.

“It was about 30 ft. from the building and the wind was blowing toward the east. I shouldn’t have gone off and left it, but the wind shifted and carried the fire up under the overhang of the roof. When I came back smoke was coming from the roof and upper floor.”         

…. Although a small office adjoining the living room [the Assembly Hall] was badly damaged…, the big room itself suffered only smoke damage. Wright found good in that, too. “That smoke-tone is wonderful,” he said. “I couldn’t have darkened it so evenly if I’d done it myself. Nature is God’s technician.”

Fellowship member “Frances” Nemtin, who joined the Fellowship in early ’46, wrote about it in her booklet, 3 by FLLW. She, then-husband Kenn Lockhart, and their children had been living at the Midway Barns over the winter. On that day in 1952:

… [T]here were a few of us on the grounds…. I was at startled to hear sirens and see fire-trucks and police cars screaming through our valley and turning into Hillside… when I ran onto the nearby roof I saw black smoke rising there. With the children I drove to Hillside fast and found a horrifying scene. The theater was full of flames and the local fire engines were desperately fighting an enormous blaze.

3 by FLLW, by Frances Nemtin (self-published, 2008), 44-45.

As members of the Taliesin Fellowship returned, they cleaned the area, prepping for work. That’s because Wright had already redesigned the space.

The new space, now called the Hillside Theatre/Theater (both spellings are in drawings) pushed out further on the north and south. The apprentices poured concrete and created stadium seating. He designed metal chairs, most of which where put into the concrete.

In 1955, they had a formal evening for Wright’s birthday (June 8) to mark the completion of the work.

Maynard Parker also took photographs at Taliesin that year.

These photographs were published in House Beautiful in November, 1955. One of the photos he took is below:

Photographer, Maynard Parker. Looking northwest at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside building in 1955..
Huntington Library–Maynard Parker collection. Call Number. photoCL MLP 1266.

Summer photograph by Maynard Parker looking at the south facade of Hillside. The rebuilt Theater is on the left. An enlarged kitchen at Hillside is on the lower right, under a new roof with a balcony parapet above the stone and wooden doors.

The next year, 1956, the apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship gave Wright a curtain from his design. Again, here’s Frances Nemtin:

…. It was to be an abstraction of the Wisconsin landscape and executed in felt appliqued on Belgian linen…. Immediately on reaching Wisconsin that April we set out to work in the second floor of Aldebaran, Wes Peters‘ farm, so we could work secretly. We knew if Mr. Wright saw it in progress he’d make constant changes.

3 by FLLW, by Frances Nemtin (self-published, 2008), 49.

Frances and others could not agree on the date of the curtain’s execution. Folks at Taliesin and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation didn’t know if it was made in 1954, ’56, or ’57.

Then I got an email:

A woman wrote me at work (as the Taliesin historian). She told me that her parents were in the Taliesin Fellowship and her mother worked on that curtain. And her mother went into labor with her a few days before they finished. And she was born in June of 1956.

So we had our date.

Not cut in stone, but… good enough I’d say.

First published April 15, 2022.
I do not know who took the photograph at the top of this page, but it appeared in a newspaper story on the Hillside fire.


Notes:

1. The building I wrote about in the post, “Another find at Hillside” was the original gymnasium for the Aunts’ Hillside school. That building became the dormitory for older boys once Wright’s building was constructed.

Photograph by Kevin Dodds, looking north in the hallway of Taliesin's Guest Wing.

Bats at Taliesin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last summer I wrote “A Slice of Taliesin“, which described some of the work done by the Preservation Crew at Taliesin. In fact, that work was about twenty feet to the left + 4-6 feet below where Preservation Crew member Kevin Dodds was standing when he took took the photograph above.

Photograph above looks at the west wall in Taliesin’s Guest Wing in December 2006.
Kevin took it after the removal of the non-historic drywall had begun.

Kevin took the photo below a few months later1

The drywall demolition work uncovered a little bat cluster:

Photograph by Kevin Dodds in February 2007 looking at bats found in Taliesin's Guest Wing.

I am typing right now as far away from the screen as I can get because this photo just freaks me out.

Why’s that?

Bats freak me out.

And it’s April, which means that the bats are starting to wake up from their hibernation. Therefore, I’m going to write today about them and about Taliesin. That’s because I did not have a phobia of bats before I started working there.

When I mean phobia

I don’t want them eliminated. And I’m fine with seeing them at a distance. But being around them when they’re flying (or when they fall on the floor, which they can’t get up from), makes me scream uncontrollably. Others will say, “Oh, come on, what’s the problem?” while I’m screaming and running out of the room.

Before Taliesin,

the closest I’d come to seeing them was that scene with the bat in the movie, The Big Chill.

Since I moved to the area in the 1990s to be closer to Taliesin, I would see them flit past my face when I took walks at night in the summers. I was amazed at their echolocation. They’d fly by and it was kind of cool.

So the reaction came on unexpectedly

I believe I had my first negative reaction when cleaning at the Hillside structure later on.

“Nate” (another tour guide) and I were doing some deep cleaning at the Hillside Theater (deep cleaning was another thing I use to do at Taliesin, like I wrote about in the post, “I’m Just a Tour Guide“). We came across a bat sleeping on a wall. Nate slowly gathered the bat up so he could put it in a place away from people. I don’t know if it was the way the bat moved, or its squealing distress call.2 But as Nate kept saying, “It’s no problem, see? He’s just fine. . . “, I kept backing up, replying to him on the edge of hysteria that “it’s ok (!!!!)”

Plus, there were the House openings in April

That was done for years before there was heat inside Taliesin’s living quarters. I mentioned House openings in “Physical Taliesin History“. And more than once, the Opening crew found bats, sluggishly trying to keep warm. So, we designated Tom, a fellow House opener, as the bat catcher. One time, there was one bat that Tom found in the toilet, still alive, but it had fallen in the water.3

Apparently bats would hang on the edge of toilet rims. Most of the time they were fine, but sometimes they fell.

Tom took the wet and cold bat out of the toilet bowl, dried it carefully with a towel, and put it on a rock outside to let it warm up in the sunshine. Then he found another bat. I think it was also hanging from the rim of a toilet bowl, but hadn’t fallen in. He took it outside and put it next to the colder bat.

He swore that he looked over and the second bat had put its wing around the bat who had been wet. And when they warmed up, they flew away.

That’s adorable!

I know. But I still can’t stop screaming when I get around them.

But bats eat bugs!

I know. I know they all don’t have rabies. They are fascinating to watch coming out of chimneys. And I thank my little bat friends for their circumlocution around me when I walk at night. But… you know… screaming.

I also saw them while giving tours

One time, my two guests and I were in a room at Hillside. I saw a bat drop from the ceiling and fly behind them. And I didn’t even squeak.

Another time, I was the first person walking into Taliesin’s Living Room and saw a bat hanging from one of the cypress strips on the ceiling.

Color photograph looking south in Taliesin's living room. Taken October 2003.

Looking south in the living room. I took this photo on Oct. 27, 2003.

The bat hung near the top of the gable in the color photograph above.

I don’t know if anyone on the tour saw the bat (nobody mentioned it), but I did my best to speak about anything that didn’t rise above shoulder height. So I talked about the wood on the tables and the furniture’s low seats. I talked about the piano in the room, the stone on the floors, the fireplace, and the view out of the windows.

And, finally:

There was the story that I told on tours for my last few summers. It has to do with Terry Teachout.

Terry was the culture writer for the Wall Street Journal and died unexpectedly in January of 2022. He and I met in 2005 and became friends. He loved Spring Green, the nearby American Players Theatre, and Taliesin. He was invited to stay one night at the House by Minerva Montooth (a Taliesin resident who lived there with the Wrights in the Taliesin Fellowship).

A few days later, Terry sent me some of the writing he was doing for his post about that night in the House. He related listening to music in Taliesin’s living room (the room you see in the photograph above). He described how, at one point,

“A black bird came in, flew around the ceiling, then fluttered out. I never saw it again.”

I loved telling people on my tours that I replied, “Terry… that was a bat.”

First Published April 5, 2022.
Photographs by Kevin Dodds used with permission.


Studies on bats

The current state of bats on the Taliesin estate has been checked on by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. As you may be aware, brown bats are having problems because of “white nose syndrome”: https://www.batcon.org/about-bats/bats-101/

Long thing about “bat distress vocalizations: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-64323-7

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, on saving Wisconsin bats: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/Bats

The USDA on Wisconsin bats: https://wildlifedamage.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/289/2020/10/WildlifeDamage-Bat-6-2020.pdf

The Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin did a survey of the bats on the Taliesin estate, and I found it on the Wayback Machine from February, 2017:  https://web.archive.org/web/20170315012654/http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/learn/current-recent-projects#bats

It was also put onto the Taliesin Preservation Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=10154518556099234


Notes:

1. Mostly, the preservation crew did the work that makes a lot of noise and mess during the winter. That way, they wouldn’t bother guests on the estate during the tour season.

2. I’m very proud of myself for staying through the entire recording of the bat’s distress calls even though I imagined bat distress sounds for about 5 minutes afterward.

3. As for how there could be water in the toilets when the whole house was unheated during the winter: All of the water systems were drained at the end of the season, with anti-freeze put into pipes just in case. Then everything was filled back up in the spring.

Taken under the oak tree at the Tea Circle looking toward Taliesin's Drafting Studio

First year of tours

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I took this photograph in 1994 under the oak tree at the Taliesin Tea Circle. The room with the French doors near the center of the photograph is Taliesin’s drafting studio. Wright used it as an office after he moved drafting operations to Hillside.

“1867. . . . 1886. . . . 1896. . . Oh, shit – 1901? 1902?”

That’s basically a transcription of what came out of my mouth in 1994 while I drove with Alex1 from Madison, Wisconsin to Spring Green and the Taliesin estate. The dates were important in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and on the Taliesin estate.

The rundown of all those dates

1867: the year Wright was born.

despite how much he lied about the year he was born, which can get you into a rabbit hole on the internet unless you’re judicious

1886: the year Unity Chapel was designed/built.2 It’s the family chapel and can be seen from Taliesin.

1896: the year the Romeo & Juliet Windmill was commissioned by Wright’s aunts.

1901: the year the aunts commissioned Wright for the Hillside Home School stone structure. We were taught 1902 for a while. But, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper) edition of October 1, 1901 said:

“Owing to the increased attendance, the principals [i.e., the Aunts] have decided to build a new school house.  The plans have been drawn and sent from the studio of Frank Ll. Wright, architect, Chicago, and work upon the construction will begin at once.”

I recited those dates to continue my obsessive-studying over the previous week. Alex and I were newly hired tour guides. He and I knew each other because we were students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (he studied Architectural History and I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Art History3).

On that day in the car, however, I had no idea that I would become an expert on Taliesin, and would eventually live in the village of Spring Green.

More about tours:

At that time, Hillside tours were the first ones that all guides learned. An hour long, they gave the basics on Wright’s life and work while going through Hillside’s 14,000+ square feet. Meanwhile, Taliesin House tours were new. They’d only been offered three days a week the season before this. In 1994, they went out 2 times a day, every day but Wednesday. The tours were twice as long as Hillsides, and cost more than four times as much ($35 vs. $8 / $4 for children under 12 4).

Hillside tours were also the most popular. Apparently, one year over 30,000 people took one. Also, there was an architecture firm in the Hillside building, where apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture worked in the Hillside Drafting Studio.5

Those at the school were literally apprentices working under the licensed architects. Later, the firm closed and the curriculum changed so they became actual students.

Lastly, there was an exterior Walking Tour created in ’86 or so. Before the House tour existed, the Walking Tour was the closest a person could get to Wright’s residence. And that was only while standing at the bottom of the hill around which Taliesin sits.

That summer:

Here are a couple of my Taliesin-related memories from 1994:

The first time I got a laugh on tour. It was when we came up to the exterior roof of the Hillside Theater foyer. Its ceiling rises to just about 6 feet tall. As I brought the group to the foyer, I gave the story I’d been told: that, “Wright always said that ‘People over 6 feet tall are wasted space.'”

Running through a Taliesin courtyard as birds fluttered by me, and chuckling while I thought, “what I did on my summer vacation.”

An interesting group of people

I remember laughing hysterically that summer with those funny, smart people. In fact, most of the people that I’ve encountered at Taliesin through 25+ years were whip-smart and creative, along with being devoted to Wright and his architecture. Another reason to stick around. Here’s a photograph of some from an end-of-the-season party one year at Hillside:

Staff at a party at Hillside
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

As the buildings were (or are) unheated, closing down the structures commenced in the days after the season’s end. So, having a party allowed the staff to let off steam and prepare for the upcoming work. Plus, most of the staff wouldn’t see each other again until the following spring. Wright’s living quarters are heated now, but not Hillside. That still has to be prepped for Wisconsin winters. Unlike earlier years, the people who now close the buildings are the Preservation Crew.

Plus, my movie-viewing experience expanded:6

Alex and I were invited that summer to watch movies at the home of a Senior guide (who officiated my wedding 23 years later). He showed us The Last Picture Show, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Evil Dead, Part 2, among others I’m sure I’ve missed.

Craig also figured out how to hook the History geek into the Wright world.

uh… that’s me.

So, when a “House Guard” went on vacation, he put me on the schedule with the other guard, Germaine. Germaine, whose father was Wright’s gardener, became friends with Iovanna (the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna). Germaine, this elegant older woman, who always wore dresses and her hair in a chignon, spent years in the Taliesin Fellowship and later married apprentice Rowan Maiden.

House Guards (now known as House Stewards) opened the House in the morning, by cleaning and vacuuming. They, then and now, greet people at Taliesin’s front door and, at that time, gave out booties for guests to put on their shoes.

Booties were used to protect the rugs. I guess they do, but maybe not when thousands of feet walk over the rugs every tour season. The booty fuzz—a light blue—gets all over the rugs. You almost have to use your fingernails to scrape it up.

Germaine and I had time to talk that week. She told stories of the life at Taliesin and invited me up to Iovanna’s5 bedroom (in the floor above Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna’s quarters). That’s when she told me that she and Iovanna used to sunbathe outside on a little balcony.

I mentioned this in the on-line presentation I gave in 2020 through The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

Another memory

Photograph of Taliesin Tea Circle in the summer of 1994.
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Photograph of the Taliesin Tea Circle with the oak tree. The Chinese bell is hanging off the limb veering to the left.

I remember sitting in the Entry Foyer at Taliesin’s “front” door, waiting for a House tour. A member of the Taliesin Fellowship, architect Charles Montooth, came bounding up the steps of Taliesin’s Tea Circle on break (he usually worked at the Hillside drafting studio). He ran up to the large Chinese bell that hung from the oak tree limb you see in the photo above, then stopped in front of it and drummed it several times with his knuckles. He paused for a moment to listen to its faint ring, then ran back down to where he came out.

Taliesin tours certainly struck me,

as someone who had measured my worth mostly through test scores, as a very nice way to come into adulthood. Plus, giving tours meant that I was judged for the words that came out of my mouth instead of numbers on a page.

You can read here how the tour program became integrated into my life.

First published March 7, 2022.
I took both of the photographs used in this blog post.


1. not his real name

2. We also thought 1886 was the year he designed the first Hillside Home School building for his aunts, a.k.a., the “Home Building“. That was, until being corrected by someone else. The year he designed the Home Building is actually 1887.

3. I received my degree that December with my thesis on David Wojnarowicz.

4. No kids under that age were allowed on tours going into Wright’s Living Quarters at the House. Now tours take kids as young as 10 years old.

5. Now The School of Architecture, no longer at Taliesin.

6. I’m not talking about the biweekly online series, “Welcome to the Basement“.

1910-1911 exterior photograph on the Hillside Home School campus.

Another find at Hillside

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photograph from 1910-1911 showing three structures on the campus of the Hillside Home School. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside building is on the left and behind it, with the hipped gable roof, is the dormitory for the high school boys. The third structure on the far right was known as the Home Cottage and was for the younger boys.

In my last post I wrote about finding something during the Comprehensive Hillside Chronology. Today, I’m posting about another find made during that project.

Although, I credit this find to my research and writing partner on that project, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation). She made the mental connection; I only agreed after the surrounding evidence became too strong.

What was this find?

That Wright’s Hillside structure was physically attached to another building that he didn’t design. Literally: Wright connected his building to a wooden, 3-story building right behind it.

Whew – I feel better just coming out and saying that.

How this was found out:

Anne and I looked at the Hillside drawings while researching. At that moment, we weren’t looking at drawings of Wright’s Hillside structure done when Wright first built it for his aunts.

No: we were looking at another drawing, dated November 8, 1920. Wright requested it from a draftsman to show the entire Taliesin estate. We were looking at the draftsman’s copy. 1

Wright’s copy of the drawing had changes he made to it over the decades. His version is at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and is reproduced in b&w here. I showed a bit of it a few months ago when talking about reading correspondence about Midway Barn on the Taliesin estate.

The draftsman who drew it:

That was Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), an Austrian-born American architect who worked under Wright in the United States and Japan from February 1918 to August 1921. 2

Schindler’s version is interesting

His drawing (in his papers at UC-Santa Barbara) seems to show the buildings as they actually existed. This, compared to Wright’s drawings, in which Wright always seemed to add those things at Taliesin that he wanted to exist.

While I won’t show you Schindler’s drawing, I’ll show you the drawing that I made from his. 3

No: this is (more or less) a good drawing, not the mess I drew you when I posted about figuring out that photograph of the Blue room at Taliesin. I tried to trace what Schindler drew.

What you see below is my rendition of the part of Schindler’s drawing that shows the campus for the Hillside Home School:

Keiran Murphy's drawing of the buildings on the old campus of the Hillside Home School in 1920.

The text in Arial font (like “Laundry…”) identifies buildings that Schindler didn’t label.

Below is that part of Schindler’s drawing that made Anne think Wright’s Hillside building was literally attached to something else.

Keiran Murphy's close-up of two buildings on the old Hillside Home School campus in 1920.

Schindler just labelled the “Hillside School Bldg”; I added “Boys Dormitory”. But the thing that intrigued Anne was the gray rectangle attached to the right side of the Boys Dormitory. She identified that as a corridor from Wright’s Hillside School building.

By the way, if you’re curious about the open rectangle between the two parts of Wright’s building: that was Schindler’s way of showing that this was a bridge connecting the Science and Arts room to the rest of the structure.

Anne sat across from me while we looked at the drawing and said with excitement that she thought that the Boys Dormitory was attached to Wright’s “Hillside School Bldg”. I totally pooh-poohed it. Besides, another drawing (an aerial, below, done in 1910 for the “Wasmuth” portfolio) doesn’t show anything around the Hillside structure:

Aerial view drawing, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School structure.
From the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, Rare Books collection,
The University of Utah

Luckily I wasn’t alone on this project, because

Anne was ultimately proven right:

Over the next few weeks, I kept writing and exploring, looking at drawings with a fine-toothed comb (and probably a loupe). But I noticed things this time. Like,

Check out the building section: the building keeps going on the right:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.010.The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), drawing #0216.007.

The arrow pointing down on the right-hand side is showing—not the end of the building, but—a hallway coming out of it. The hallway that doesn’t really show up in the floor plans or other drawings.

In fact, this find also explained something about the Hillside drawings: there are none of the north side of the Art and Science rooms (the Roberts Room and Dana Gallery). Those rooms are seen in sections, but no Hillside drawing shows what the outside of the building looked like on the north.

Well, I finally started to believe it. Then, I re-read something and found that this very connection was written about –

In a book by a former Hillside teacher:

Mary Ellen Chase (a writer, and educator) wrote about her life as a student and teacher in A Goodly Fellowship. From 1909-1913, the Hillside Home School was her first teaching job. She wrote,

Older boys of high school age had their own homelike dormitory near by [sic]. In 1903 this was connected with an adequate and beautiful school building of native limestone, designed and erected by Frank Lloyd Wright, the son of Anna Lloyd-Jones and a nephew of [the Aunts] Ellen and Jane.

“The Hillside Home School” chapter in A Goodly Fellowship, by Mary Ellen Chase (The Macmillan Company, New York City, 1939), 98.

Then,

we pulled all of the information together (but no photos yet) to support the theory that the gymnasium was attached to Wright’s Hillside building. And that Wright later completely destroyed this connection by the time he started his Taliesin Fellowship in 1932.

Then, early the next year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy put out a “Call for Papers” for its 2010 conference (in September). The conference theme was “Modifying Wright’s Buildings and Their Sites: Additions, Subtractions, Adjacencies”. After consulting with Anne, I submitted a conference proposal to give a presentation on our find (Anne was fine with me giving the presentation).

Later, she and I were asked to turn the presentation into an article for a book. So, we worked on the article, still with no photographic proof that the buildings were connected.

Then, lo and behold,

In February of 2011, an album of photographs of Hillside in 1906 appeared (also mentioned in my last post). One of them showed the Boys dormitory, with the hallway terminating into it.

And, finally,

In March or April, 2011, as Anne and I worked on the article in the book, we went to the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. We opened a folder of photographs in the John P. Lewis collection and—SCORE!—there was a beautiful photo showing that hallway more clearly. That’s below.

PHotograph of boy in striped, long-sleeved shirt and shorts in summer, with buildings behind him.
Wisconsin Historical Society, Lewis, John P. : Wright collection, 1869-1968.
Image ID: 84042

That boy is standing just west of the Boys Dormitory and Wright’s Hillside building. The Science Room (now the Dana Gallery) is behind him.

BOOYAH!

Originally posted, February 19, 2022.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by a Hillside Home School student, class of 1911. In 2005, her daughters, Elizabeth Weber and Margaret Deming, came into the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center to take a tour, giving us the chance to scan the photographs that their mother had taken while she was a student. I asked Elizabeth Weber’s permission to publish the photograph (which appears in the book in which Anne and I wrote the article).
See? Another example of “Preservation by Distribution“!


1. Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith, might have alerted the Preservation Crew about Schindler’s drawing, and got us a photograph of it. Why did she let us know this—and also alert us to the Taliesin photographs by Raymond Trowbridge?—Preservation by distribution.

2. Email from Kathryn Smith to me, January 8, 2021. This information came from her book, SCHINDLER HOUSE, Abrams, 2001, p. 11-16.

3. Anne and I looked at Schindler’s drawing, but I don’t know if I can show it, since it’s not been printed anywhere.

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

Truth hiding in plain sight

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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 in Hillside’s 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 when they were completing the building. Wright told the story about the names in the 1943 edition of his autobiography:

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.  

In fact, the floor of the Dana Gallery has a shadow of the dark room’s wall, which you see in the photo 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. In part because we were all American citizens.

Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Photo by Maynard Parker, Huntington Library-Parker Collection.

Anna to her son

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Color photo taken in 1955 in Wright’s bedroom at Taliesin. There’s a framed photo on his desk, near the barrel chair. It shows his aunts (Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones) on the left, and his mother on the right.

Anna, as in Anna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother. This post is about Anna in general, but also whether or not she ever lived at Taliesin.

Although, I won’t give a deep analysis on how the architect felt about his mother, or vice versa.

Anna (first named Hannah) Lloyd Jones was born in Wales in 1838 and died in Oconomowoc in eastern Wisconsin in 1923. Wright wrote about her in his autobiography, saying that:

“…. Although she believed Education the direct manifestation of God…, Sister Anna loved—Beauty.

Soon she became a teacher in the countryside, riding a horse over the hills and through the woods to and from her school each day.”

Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 108.

Anna’s choices:

She made choices that had a strong effect on her son’s career. In 1876 she went to the Centennial Exposition and discovered the Froebel Gifts.

I wrote about them when I gave history of Hillside on the Taliesin estate.

The Froebel Gifts were an essential part of the new kindergarten method of teaching, and Anna took classes on how to teach her children to use them. They’ll affect Wright’s designs and, he wrote later that, “The smooth shapely maple blocks” of the Gifts, would “never afterward” leave his fingers. “[S]o form,” he wrote, “became feeling….” [Frank Lloyd Wright, 111.]

The first summer the family moved back in Wisconsin (1878, the year Wright turned 11) and lived in Madison. Anna sent her son 45 miles west, to “The Valley” outside of Spring Green where her family lived. Wright lived and worked at Uncle James Lloyd Jones’s farm. As I wrote in “Wright and Nature”, the architect vividly wrote about his memories in The Valley. He wrote that life in The Valley taught him “how to add tired to tired and add tired.” And that he was to learn,

“that the secret of all the human styles in architecture was the same that gave character to the trees.”
Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, 126.

Yet,

In spite of these good things, I’m ambivalent about Anna. Did she follow him around too much? Did she put him on too much of a pedestal that leaked into how he felt about himself? Was she abusive to her step-daughter Lizzie?

Why am I bringing this up now? I’m bringing her up because, when we went to Arizona last month,

I read some of her letters.

In December, I read transcriptions of some letters to I look for those things about Wright’s mother as she lived at Taliesin.

Here‘s I wrote about that trip.

I did this because, while I’ve been told over the years that she lived at his home, I wanted to check. That’s because being told things doesn’t always make them true. After all, when I gave tours I was told by a visitor that “my guide at [another Wright site] said that Wright had designed Taliesin with a room for both his wife and his mistress.”

In reply I [HOPE] I said: “His wife and his partner, Mamah Borthwick?” … coz you have to use that vocabulary in order to change the narrative … “No, I’m sorry I don’t remember seeing that in any of Taliesin’s drawings….”

Regardless,

In her biography on the architect, author Meryle Secrest mentioned Anna living at Taliesin. Secrest wrote that Wright contacted his sisters (Jane and Maginel) about the problems that caused. But Secrest didn’t quote from the letters. Given how people can misread and misunderstand, I wanted to check. 

So, in December,

At Taliesin West, I got a chance to look at some of the letters that Anna wrote to her son after he started Taliesin. I read some of what she wrote while he was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel. And I made notes that do show that she was living at Taliesin while he was away from his home. Of course the problem with that is, when she and her son lived at the house, there was no reason for Anna to write him.

And unfortunately,

I’ve not found anything written by Anna where she described exactly in which room at Taliesin she lived, or what built-ins the room had, or what colors were plastered on which colors.

No, unfortunately, when she wrote to her son, Anna sounded like a normal human. She didn’t write like she was writing for some historian a century later. I mean, really: she wrote to her son and his companion, Miriam Noel, on March 16, 1917 that she was had been found on the floor “in the hall from my room”, but still didn’t mention which was “my” room.1

Grumble grumble….

Yet, in that letter on March 16, Anna did write something interesting. She told her son to allow a new draftsman at Taliesin to live, instead, “in the house on the hill….”

I know what that means

The “house on the hill” is the part of Taliesin that had a kitchen, storage rooms, and the larger dining room.2 The photo below shows this area at Taliesin. It’s a postcard that former apprentice Edgar Tafel owned. He said it was taken 1917-18:

Photograph of Taliesin Hill Wing, in snow.

The apartment that Anna mentioned was on the left in the photograph. The kitchen was at the base of the chimney on the right. Today, if you were to walk past this, you wouldn’t be able to see the room that held the kitchen.

(besides, you can’t walk there because it’s private property and people live there)

But you wouldn’t be able to easily see the room with the old kitchen because Wright added a dining room, blocking most of that view. Sometime after this photo was taken, Wright would add the dining room that he walked out of in 1925 to see the fire at his house (read my post about the fire, here).

First published January 8, 2022
Image screen-grab at the top of this post is by Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, from the webpage below:
https://hdl.huntington.org/digital/collection/p15150coll5/id/10269

This photograph on his desk is one of the only ones that Wright had in his home.


Notes:

1 The letter was written March 16, 1917, but I couldn’t find the microfiche number for it.

2 This is where knowing the building well helps out. I read this letter that Olgivanna wrote to Maginel in May 1932. It’s published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace: The Enduring Power of a Civic Vision, by David V. Mollenhoff and Mary Jane Hamilton (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999), 82. In the letter Olgivanna wrote:

We are in desperate condition. The Sechrests have shut us out of the hill – nailed all the doors leading to their part, dining rooms, kitchens, storerooms, waiting for money we owe them (three months salary)…. We are cooking and eating in the kitchen below.

I instantly knew what being shut “out of the hill” and what “eating in the kitchen below” meant. The “hill” being the kitchen and dining room on the hill that I talked about above. Eating in “the kitchen below” meant the kitchen in the main living quarters. They weren’t the full-time kitchen any longer and they were “below” because the other kitchen was on the hill.