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

Another find at Hillside

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

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.

A Trip Into Hillside History

In the late 00’s, I wrote a “comprehensive chronology” of Wright’s Hillside building with the principal of Cornerstone Preservation (which specializes in architectural research and planning). This led me to reading all of those old newspapers I wrote about recently. The post where I detailed some of what you learn by reading old newspapers.1

That work informs the information I’ll write here

It’s a short, intense, introduction to Hillside, a building on Wright’s Taliesin estate. Hillside (the Hillside Home School) was once designed by Wright for a school for his aunts. Then, starting 30 years later, he began making changes to it. The building today includes a dining room and kitchen, an assembly hall, studio, and  theater.

Hillside history:

Frank Lloyd Wright originally designed the Hillside Home School in 1901. It’s on the south part of the Taliesin estate. After he started the Taliesin Fellowship, he added on to it by in the 1930s and ’40s, and then changed it after a fire occurred there in 1952. “Hillside” seems to be the only building by Wright that shows, distinctly, 4 time periods in his work, spread out over half a century.

The oldest part of the building (1901-02) looks over a dining room reconstructed under Wright’s direction in the 1950s. Walk again through the oldest part (a 1901 hallway), into the Hillside Drafting Studio. This was designed and built in the 1930s.

A walk outside brings you to the Hillside Theater foyer; Wright did that in the late 1940s. The foyer is right next to the theater, also redesigned after the 1952 fire.

So, in Hillside, you jump back and forth in time through Wright’s designs from 1901 to the last part, completed in 1955.

The buildings commissioned by the Aunts:

The building was commissioned initially by two amazing women who were aunts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s: Ellen (“Nell”) and Jane (“Jennie”). The structure served their school, which was also known as the Hillside Home School. Everyone in the area (including the schoolchildren) knew them as Aunt Jennie and Aunt Nell,2 or just “the Aunts”. The school was a coeducational day and boarding school that served children grades 1-12 and ran from 1887 to 1915. Wright actually designed three buildings for the Aunts: the “Home Building”,3 a dormitory and library, built in 1887 (when Wright was 20); a windmill, “Romeo and Juliet”,3 built when he was 30; and the Hillside Home School structure, finished when he was 36.

Those three structures were within a school campus that had additional housing, a greenhouse, a laundry, and a barn with horse stables.

Here are some hyperlinks to photos at the Wisconsin Historical Society that show things at the school:

  • A photo looking at most of the campus, with everything but the octagonal barn, the West Cottage, and the windmill.
  • A photo showing some of the buildings with the Romeo and Juliet Windmill in the distance.
  • And a photo of the octagonal barn.

If one were to go through Hillside today, you would just see the Hillside Home School and the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. Wright slowly eliminated the other school buildings, destroying the last one in 1950.

OK! So I gave you the basic background, here’s info on the school and Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones.

The Aunts:

Both were educators:

Nell (1845-1919) taught instructors in kindergarten education. Jennie (1847/8-1917) was the head of the history department at the River Falls Normal School.

Ok, why did Wright call her “Aunt Jane” in his autobiography when you keep writing “Aunt Jennie”? I think he introduced her as Jane because he had a sister named Jane (Jane Porter), who was apparently known as Jennie.

Two things about my ignorance:

(1) Kindergarten education

It’s more complex than I knew before I started giving tours in the 1990s. To me, kindergarten was that fun school I went to as a little girl where we took a nap each day.

But kindergarten was a method of teaching children invented by Germany Friedrich Froebel (froy-bel). He created these learning devices called the “Froebel Gifts” that were designed to teach children about the underlying geometry in nature.4

Wright’s mother discovered the Froebel Gifts at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and introduced them to her son.

Here’s the 99 Percent Invisible podcast episode about the Kindergarten and Froebel:

Froebel’s Gifts

(2) Normal Schools:

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that “Normal Schools” were schools for teaching people how to be teachers. As opposed to how to be, you know, “normal”.

More on the Aunts’ Hillside Home School:

There’s a great book on the Hillside Home School: A Goodly Fellowship, by educator Mary Ellen Chase. You can find the book in libraries, or for purchase through www.abebooks.com.

The Aunts gave Chase her first teaching job. While I wish I could copy everything she wrote, I’ll give you this:

Chapter IV, “The Hillside Home School”, p. 85-121.

p. 90
[D]uring the three years I lived and worked with [the Aunts], they always took me by surprise and left me in wonder…. I was later to understand how together they gave the warmth and the fire, the stability and the strength, the soul and the spirit which for nearly thirty years sustained and supported the most wholesome and abundant of schools….

Some graduates of Hillside:

The students who went to the Hillside Home School included:

  • Future illustrator (and author), Maginel Wright Enright (Wright’s youngest sister);
  • The first woman elected to the state legislature of Illinois (Florence Fifer Bohrer);
  • Future Wisconsin Governor, Phillip LaFolette;
  • A female doctor who was Chief of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic in the 1920s at Long Branch Hospital in Long Branch, New Jersey (Dr. Helen Upham);
  • Wright’s sons, future architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (known as Lloyd Wright) and Wright’s second son, John Lloyd Wright (who famously also invented Lincoln Logs).

In 1907, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper), ran a story on the school  and stated that by that year those who graduated from Hillside were automatically accepted into the University of Illinois at Chicago, or to Wellesley College.

Below is the link to the short piece I was asked to write in early 2020 while at Taliesin Preservation. It was from a call from the National Trust for Historic Preservation 1000 Places “where Women Made History”:
https://web.archive.org/web/20200920033632/https://contest.savingplaces.org/egiguylh?_ga=2.51589609.1571769439.1600570401-1325809123.1580253164

The Aunts closed the school in 1915.

Their ages, economic problems caused by poor real estate choices, a lack of a successor and, yes, the murders at their nephew’s home less than a mile away (in August 1914) were among the reasons the Aunts had to close their school. They sold the buildings and land to Wright and died a few years later.

The buildings were unused between 1915 and 1932. In the late ‘teens-early twenties, Wright was working in Japan on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo,* then had commissions in California. Then another devastating fire occurred at his house in 1925, followed by lots of personal, legal, and economic problems (that are too numerous to go into here).

Wright looked back to the Hillside buildings:

In 1928, he started thinking about using the buildings for a school (he called it the “Hillside Home School of the Allied Arts”). That didn’t go anywhere for a variety of reasons. So, in 1932, he and his third wife, Olgivanna, opened the Taliesin Fellowship, an architectural apprenticeship program, with him at the head. 23 apprentices arrived that October to work with Wright. At his home, Taliesin, he converted the former hayloft, horse stable and cow barn into dormitory rooms.

Wright’s career after the Fellowship’s founding in 1932:

Upon founding the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright sent the apprentices to work at Hillside. They built onto the existing school by starting a 5,000 sq. foot drafting studio with eight dormitory rooms on each side. By November of the next year, they had converted the school’s gymnasium into a theater, named the Playhouse by Wright. Here are links to a couple of photographs that show the Hillside Drafting Studio and the Playhouse:

Construction work on the Hillside studio:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25967

The Playhouse its opening weekend:
https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/the-new-taliesin-hillside-theater-looking-toward-the-rear-news-photo/1139715311

While construction of the Hillside Drafting Studio began pretty early in the Fellowship history (1932? 1933?), Wright didn’t structurally complete until late 1938. It’s cute reading accounts by Taliesin Fellowship apprentices in the mid-’30s: they wrote about how the drafting studio be in use soon!5 However, they didn’t get it all set up and opened until July 1939.

The Hillside Drafting Studio becomes the main studio for Wright in Wisconsin:

Once the Fellowship and Wright moved into the Hillside Drafting Studio, all of the drafting work in Wisconsin was done there (not in his first studio at his house).

Here‘s for a photo of Wright working in the Hillside Drafting Studio. It’s from the collection of photos by his photographer, Pedro Guerrero. I don’t know, but I would imagine that having the larger space with less distraction was a goal for working with young architectural apprentices. The only outdoor light came from clerestory windows above and two doors on the north side of the room.

I’m not sure what happened while World War II was going on, but drafting was definitely done in the studio when World War II was over. I looked at one of the major books cataloguing Wright’s architecture (William Allin Storrer’s The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion) to count the number of commissions. Looks like Wright and the Fellowship designed and executed 240 buildings from 1945 until the architect’s death in 1959. And, in the summer, the Fellowship did all of the design work at the Hillside Studio in Wisconsin.

Wright did more construction at Hillside after World War II:

By 1948 he added a foyer onto the Playhouse. The foyer is made mostly out of stone with no insulation. That’s in part because by 1948, Wright and the Fellowship were spending every winter in Arizona at Taliesin West. I’ve not seen ice inside the building in April, but I have seen my breath in the cold (as of September 2020, tours don’t go into Hillside after Halloween and before May 1).

In 1950, Wright had the Home Building torn down.

Two years later there was a major fire at Hillside:

I don’t know if Wright would have changed things at Hillside in the 1950s, but a fire, caused by brush, happened on April 26, 1952. It destroyed the part of the building that had the 1901 classrooms on the building’s south side. The fire also mostly destroyed the Playhouse. In the edition of The Weekly Home News on May 1, Wright said “… the building will be much better looking…” when he rebuilt it. And that, “That smoke-tone is wonderful… I couldn’t have darkened it so evenly if I’d done it myself. Nature is God’s technician.”

The building was cleaned up in the summer of 1952 with construction happening the following two summers (click here for a photo of Wright by Pedro Guerrero supervising an apprentice Kelly Oliver on the roof at Hillside during reconstruction). The building was apparently complete by Wright’s birthday, June 8, in 1955.

This Hillside Theater (or Theatre depending on how fancy you feel) has two sections of metal seats, set into poured concrete and 90 degrees to each other.

Because this part of the building was constructed during the summer, Wright didn’t seem to care so much about drainage or things of that nature. After more than 50 years, this was a growing concern. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation received a Save America’s Treasures grant for the Theater, announced in 2018. Restoration work began in 2020.

First published 9/23/2020.
The photograph at the top of this post shows the Hillside Assembly Hall. I took this in 2008.


Notes:

1 In part, you learn that a lot of people died 100 years ago from, say, fever, dropsy, appendicitis, or what happens when you lean your loaded shotgun against tree while jumping over a fence (note: if it’s in the newspaper, the loaded shogun probably fell over, shot you and killed you).

2 I didn’t even know I was referenced in this article until over 2 years after I wrote this post above.

3 Disclosure: I initially wrote the Wikipedia entry.

4 The first kindergarten was in Wisconsin.

5 You read these cute accounts in a weekly newspaper column entitled “At Taliesin” that were found, transcribed, then edited into a book by Randolph C. Henning.

I never knew he was such an S.O.B.!

Frank Lloyd Wright, that is. Still, after the documentary about Wright by Ken Burns came out in 1998, that’s what all of my friends said to me that Christmas.

The stuff you hear about Frank Lloyd Wright

I wasn’t surprised that they said this. Let me tell you: among other things, what’s heard about Wright is that he was arrogant, his buildings all came in over-budget, they all leaked, and his furniture is uncomfortable. But working at Taliesin teaches you a lot about varying degrees of acceptance of the man and his work. I’ve seen people burst into tears while walking into rooms at Taliesin (the beauty hits at the gut level). Kids and adults will go into the first room they see in the Hillside building on the Taliesin estate and go, “wow!” Someone reminded me that people come to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s home Taliesin from all over the United States, South America, Japan, and at least a couple of countries in Europe.

And “He was such an S.O.B.” is the other side of Wright’s fame. He was in his early 40s after building over 100 buildings when he became known nationwide—not because of his genius in design—but because of a notorious set of relationships that landed him in newspapers, where he could be the subject of press conferences (as well as the murders in 1914, but that’s not what this post is about).

Wright: forced to become adept at working in mass media

Personally I think that by the time he turned 60 in 1927—after two divorces, a child born out of wedlock two years earlier, and “shacking up” with a “dancer” 30 years his junior/the future third Mrs. Wright (with whom he would spend the rest of his life)—he’d spent almost two decades as the subject of newspaper columns. I think he realized he could turn his notoriety on its head. He’d already been on the “bad” side of press; might as well use those columnists to get press that he controlled.

As for his genius in architecture, that’s too much to really get into here,1 but his buildings at times are more than the sum of their parts and are more beautiful than you can find all the reasons for. It’s a reason people have said to me that they’ve waited their whole lives to come to Taliesin. It’s also why I had an eleven year old tell me excitedly that her parents gave her a tour of Taliesin for her birthday. I think that girl had a few years before hearing the parts that could make him an S.O.B.

First published 8/9/2020.

1 I wrote about some of his genius in “Taliesin as a structural experiment”, and “Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings are Smaller Than You Think”

Adventures in Reading Old Newspapers

Over ten years ago, I went to the archives room at the local library to read the microfiche files of our newspaper, which started in the 1860s. I was researching Hillside, the building on the Taliesin estate originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his aunts and their school, the Hillside Home School. I was trying to figure out what happened to the building from the time that Wright’s aunts closed the school, until he opened his architectural apprenticeship called the Taliesin Fellowship. He and the apprentices used the old school structures on the Taliesin estate for their program. So I had to look at newspaper issues from June, 1915 to October, 1932.

Reading all of that was a trip. It made me think everyone should read old newspapers just to see how life has changed. Pick a year and a place – the year your great grandparents got married and the town nearby with a newspaper. Read every issue of the newspaper from the month before and the month after their wedding.

Here’s a sense of what it’s like: something I wrote after one of those days in the local library, reading newspaper issues from the 1910s:

Have you ever had that feeling…

That we worry too much about things? Just look at old newspapers. OH. MY. GOD.

A list of traumas and tragedies in your local newspapers

People are dying from everything. Just sitting down in a chair in their living room and droppin’ dead at the age of 47. Getting an attack of appendicitis, and not getting to a doctor in time. Succumbing to “infant paralysis” (which I really think was Polio before it was Polio). Burning—horribly—all the time. Mangling themselves constantly—chopping off limbs, hitting themselves in the face with an axe—and all this was just reported in your local newspaper.

March 1, 1917, p. 1 “Herb Scholl received a painful injury to his right eye Tuesday. While opening a box of goods a splinter flew and pierced the eyeball. No serious result is anticipated.”

Pierced the EYEBALL.
Wearing protective eyewear while opening a large wooden box? A GOOD. IDEA.

I read one story that noted that the fire brigade of Madison, Wisconsin, had noted that over 400 fires had taken place in Madison, just in the month of January (1916).

Aside from “Stop, drop, and roll”? old newspapers made me aware of these ideas and creations:

  • Having fire-retardant children’s clothing? A GOOD. IDEA. 
    • You would not believe how many children died after their clothes caught on fire.
  • The Heimlich maneuver? A Good thing.
  • Taking the bullets out of your rifle/gun so people don’t accidentally shoot themselves? A Good thing.
  • Not propping your loaded shotgun up against a tree as you climb over a fence while out hunting game? A Good thing.
  • OSHA: A Very good thing.

I mean, you know you’re in trouble when you’re at the front page and see a small item with a headline in bold that just says, “PITCHFORK”.

First published 8/9/2020.