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The ONLY independent, unbiased source of information on the world's greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his work.

 This is the thirty-seventh edition of the FLlW UPDATE @ FrankLloydWrightInfo.com.

a supplement to the printed FLlW UPDATE, this update 23 July 2013

All items in this website © copyright 2013 W A Storrer


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Yet it must be noted now that I remain amazed at the lack of sensitivity to Wright's design principles by many who call themselves "Wrightians." People who daily drive by Wright designs and do not see them. It is not just those in Oak Park and River Forest who accepted the idea of 28 houses being Harry Robinson designs even tho they evidenced none of the characteristics of Robinson's best known Prairie designs that surprise me. In Evanston, Milwaukee and elsewhere, there are Wright designs staring those who drive by that are by Wright. Only since I moved from the east coast, where I'd spent nearly fifty years of my adult life, to northwest Michigan, that I was in proximity to these areas and had time to research them. Yet I did not live in those places or drive by them every day or so.

Foreword to the Rediscovering Wright Project.

In 1909 Frank Lloyd Wright left Oak Park and America to write the epitaph to the Prairie School, the Wasmuth portfolio. American, Prairie was, but not Democratic.
When Wright returned to America, he was anathema in Oak Park and River Forest. He took what commissions he could, mostly commercial, to get back on his architectural feet. His goal, to create an American Democratic architecture, was what remained from before. Now, 1913, Wright gets his opportunity. E W Cummings, whose real estate office was designed by Wright in 1905, and Harry Hogans, developer, want a “Prairie style” community in River Forest, a whole block of houses. Who better to design the block than Frank Lloyd Wright?
His office in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, was now staffed with sons Lloyd and John, and Harry Robinson. Efforts were collaborative. Working anonymously, with Harry Robinson as on-site supervisor, Wright’s vision of an American Democratic Architecture came to fruition in 25 homes. The idea would blossom in to the Ravine Bluffs Development, S.185-S.192 for Sherman M Booth in Glencoe, Illinois and then full-blown as the American System-Built Homes, ASBH, S.203, S.203 and S.204.
The First World War would end ASBH and put Wright’s dream of a truly America and democratic architecture to rest for a while.

The “Rediscovering Wright Project.”

For the past eight years, Rich Johnson, Dominique Watts and myself have been looking for the missing Wright houses which were initially indicated to me by Henry-Russell Hitchcock. While working on my original Catalog of Wright’s built work (The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog) Hitchcock revealed to me that Wright, while driving him through Evanston, Oak Park, Hyde Park … would occasionally point to a building and say, “I did that, but nobody will ever know.” Well, after eight years, we know why, and the 29 works referred to by Blair Kamin in his Sunday July 6 article are but the first group of items we hope to reveal this year. (See his blog: Google “Blair Kamin” and “The Skyline” or <http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/theskyline> if you don’t have access to a copy of the Chicago Tribune).

The Team.

William Allin Storrer, Ph.D., author of this web page, is now Visiting Professor of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin and author of best selling The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog and the Frank Lloyd Wright Companion. Richard Johnson is Broadcast Manager for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a Media Designer, and Daniel Dominique Watts is a professional researcher, historian, preservationist & designer specializing in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. (again, see Blair Kamin’s blog for a photo of “the team.” While Kamin identifies me as team leader, that honor should really belong to Rich Johnson who has done the ground work and assembled volumes of documents in support of the project. I am primarily a writer and historian who challenges the findings of Johnson and questions the details as enumerated by Watts.

The Process.

To identify unknown, presumed unbuilt, collaborative or undiscovered Wright works or commissions we employ aesthetic architectural archeology.
Back when the 1800s turned in to the 1900s, Bernard Berenson was turning art critics and connoisseurs inside out. He was telling them they had it all wrong in too many instances. However they had attributed a painting, he often said they were wrong and gave his proof. The proof was unnerving for it wasn’t a long-lost now found document, but simple aesthetic judgments. His study first of the Venetian Renaissance artists then, bit by bit, the remainder of Renaissance Italy, stands even today as revelatory art history. He broke the rules and established new ones.
This was, however, hardly new. Musical criticism has followed the same path, looking at the way a composer turned a phrase, modulated key structure, or on the manuscript score the way notes were placed.
Similarly, I and my two research colleagues look at details in the realization of the architectural structure & architectural vocabulary common in Wrights work and his unique signatures developed from his college mentor Conover & also during his stay in J.L.Silsbee's office, how the whole goes together as a unit, and even the shape of lettering on the plan. We gather up signatures of the architect, markers that appear often over time in the artist-architect’s work, much like the police analyze a fingerprint. 7 points of identity is a possibility, 9 a likelihood, and 12 a certainty, and so on.
Nor do we overlook documents, but for much of our work, documents do not exist. Often we have to depend upon the aesthetic elements alone.

In the printed Kamin article, a sidebar has Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, stating, “Unless we have a drawing to authenticate it, we can’t confirm it. The rest is speculation.”
There are several responses to this. Henry-Russell Hitchcock included the Amberg house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as by Wright. Only when I looked closely at the building, noting the Griffin-like heaviness of its exterior, then did a geometric analysis of the plan, did the authorship of this building fall to Marion Mahoney, not Wright.
There was a fire at Taliesin around the time Wright might have been doing his first drawings for the William Street project. There were later disasters. Drawings have been lost, so lack of a drawing proves nothing.
Further, there are no plans in the FLlW Archives for S.010 MacHarg, S.033 Chauncey Williams, and S.045 George W Smith, yet they are part of the accepted canon of Wright designs.
Finally, Mr Pfeiffer has always been courteous and helpful to me in my work on Wright. Yet when I requested a plan we thought might relate to the William Street houses of an item for which there was a drawing in Monograph 3, which was dated 1909 officially but had hand written on it a date of 1913? I received no response.

In a way, our work is like a Robert B. Parker detective novel. Spenser looks for clues in any direction they may take him. It is a spider’s web built from him in the center but the spider somewhere else on the web. With Vinnie and Hawk, they do what is necessary to find that spider. Likewise Richard Johnson and Dominique Watts research together or separately many times in a neighborhood, see something familiar, and stop, gain entry often only by sending a letter to the owner asking permission at a later date in time to gain access. Then Dominique and I join Rich and enumerate the signatures of the architect suspected of authoring the structure.

Rich Johnson, who formed our team, describes this as follows;
"I am Parker's character Spenser. Routinely, I see a story and wonder whether it is the stuff of reality or legend. Oftentimes, upon extended investigation, I discover it is a mystery with all sorts of characters and stories underneath the first one that led me off in different directions. Like a good detective, I keep following these paths in the field, libraries, any place where my instinct takes me. I meet interesting people who may, or may not, know all the facts that I am using to resolve the mystery. In the end, it takes a combination of dogged determination, legwork and analysis to put all the pieces of the story so they can make a sense as a whole. In most cases, an entirely different story comes to light rather than the one I anticipated at the beginning of the case.
"Dominique is much like a Dr Watson would be if attached to Spencer.
"Bill, I think, epitomizes Perry Mason. He is logical, strategic and able to appraise a situation and take it far down the road where it can be resolved. He loves puzzles, but is skeptical of their meaning and, at times, their importance. Intiution serves as a guide, but only so far as it can be supported by logic and rigorous analysis. Overall, Bill prefers articulate, clean-cut meaning that can be understood by everyone so far that it could withstand scrutiny in court.

We are currently looking at 159 buildings in a half-dozen states. We have far more rejects than findings. Many of our finds however are right under the noses of Wrightians of all types, from professional historians to amateur armchair advocates, and adjacent to or behind known Wright homes or projects, yet these Wrightians fail to understand what they are seeing because in many cases they were collaborative efforts, not pure Frank Lloyd Wright.
It also is clear from the set of William Street projects that (Frank) Lloyd Wright (Junior) was a driving force early on in his father's office and assisted his father as early as 1907 per Eric Lloyd Wright's remembrances of what his father told him of his relationship in Frank's office. We are exploring this relationship, because it explains much of what we have found from 1913 on.

The 29=30 discovered works.

1. A two-story house in Glen Ellyn, derivative of the Robie Lamp house (S.097).
2. A two-story house for the brother of #3 above, on Clinton Street in River Forest.
3. Twenty-four two-story houses on William Street in River Forest (further investigations added one more).
4. A two-story ASBH house in Wilmette, type S.204.
5. Two single-story ASBH houses in Berwyn, type S.203.

#1. This Glen Ellyn house overlooks Lake Ellyn from a hilltop perch. Long attributed to Harry Robinson, we know that, when original owner William Heald decided to try to sell it for health reasons in the early 1960's, he called its style “Frank Lloyd Wright.” Wright designed it and told Harry to “go, build it.” Lloyd drew it and it is on Lloyd's characteristic sized paper and uses dimension strings which his father in almost all cases never used after the earlier Robert Lamp home (S.097) drawings. Robinson was the on-site building supervisor. Wright visited the site often on his way to building the William Greene home (S.176) in Aurora, IL, which is a sister home design to William Heald's brother's prospectus home built in River Forest, IL (see #2 below), and Jens Jensen landscaped it (something he’d hardly have done for Robinson). The plan is a direct descendant of the Robert Lamp Residence. Photographs as well as William Heald drawings with their board and batten strips (Heald, perhaps for financial reasons, did it in clapboard) clearly drawn on paper are part of the revelation of this as a Wright-designed home. The art glass alone should convince most critics.

#2. The William Heald home led us to seek out just what constituted a Harry Robinson home. By viewing a few known “pure” Robinson homes in Naperville a Robinson "style" became clear in his lack of detail in both art glass and less refined detail in woodwork. This led then to finding the home of William’s brother, James Heald, on Clinton Street in River Forest, another work attributed to Harry Robinson. But from the outside one could see the Wrightian stylobate-base that Robinson did not use in his houses. Inside were many details of Lloyd Wright’s signature including his use of massive concrete cubes at the sides of the hearth opening of the fireplace and his woodwork that varied so slightly from that of his father's, the use of rectangular massive pier columns, and the use of rectangles in the woodwork where Frank Lloyd Wright would typically use squares.

For comparison, here are two Robinson masterpieces, Paul Victor residence in River Forest (left) and the Truitt house in Naperville (the inset shows the main entry).
By now we were wondering if the only reason Robinson was credited with the Glen Ellyn and Clinton Street houses was the book by the architect’s grandson, James. Rich Johnson made contact and a friendly relationship was established which resulted in our discovering his reasons for various attributions. We now have agreement as to what Robinson actually did design, and what he did not.
#3. Which includes 25 of 26 houses in the 700 block of William Street. While John Thorpe, a respected architect and restorer of many Wright buildings, suggests that Robinson “bootlegged” these houses, a reasonable possibility for one having seen only their exteriors, that argument fails the test. We are certain Thorpe, once he inspects them and compares with proven Robinson homes in Aurora, or the Dr R L Truitt house in Naperville, will join us in celebrating our findings. Interior details of the William Street houses are of several artistic signatures, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lloyd Wright, Harry Robinson and John Wright. No way they were bootlegged by Robinson with all these other signatures present.
Wright was anathema in River Forest, adjacent to Oak Park where Catherine Tobin Wright remained the wife of a cheating husband and Edwin Cheney was adopting children to replace the ones he lost when his wife and children burned to death in the Taliesin fire. But Wright was not anathema to developers who knew good architecture. Midway Gardens is the first and most obvious proof of that.
Harry Hogans would have known Wright from Unity Temple, as well as through his real estate agent E A Cummings, whose Wright-designed office, S.112, was only a few block away from William Street at the northwest corner of Lake and Harlem. Hogans knew a good thing architecturally, and Wright was working out of his office in Orchestra Hall, a good, safe distance from River Forest. Harry Robinson could carry out the on-site supervision without calling attention to Wright’s authorship of the project.
Laurie Blazek, who owns one of the 25, was quoted by Blair Kamin as saying she may set up a lemonade stand. We suggest she sell Cherokee Red Kool-aid®.

So, here we have the William Street houses, which some still claim to be by Harry Robinson. But if the houses here are by Harry Robinson, then why haven’t the Robinettes claimed two Clinton Street houses that are identical to two on Willliam Street, but just a block away, south of the James Heald house. Two in the 600 block of Clinton? Identical, mirror images flipped front to rear of William Street houses.
Here is 625 Clinton, sadly gutted during reconstruction, but we have a before photo. It is the upper left building. The other three are on William Street, numbers 714, 731 and 711 clockwise. The left two are on the west side of the street, the right two on the east side.

The right group is 609 Clinton with 726 and 754 William Street below. 609 is a front-to-back mirror of the two on William Street, being on the opposite side of the street.

So, where are the Robinson defenders, if they couldn’t recognize the two buildings on Clinton as clones of others on William Street? You’d think they would have driven the area a few times and noticed the similarities. I was unfamiliar with William Street except as I'd been told it was by Harry Robinson, until the year when I took a closer look, then investigated.

Now, the clincher. Later in his long life, Harry applied to the Federal Government for a job. For this, he had to fill out full-page statements of every job he'd held. For the period including William Street, when Harry was in Wright's employ, Harry makes no claim to designing the William Street houses, nor does he claim self-employment for the same time period. In Wright's office, he claims only to have been a supervisor (which credit we give him) and office manager.

#4. This two-story ASBH house is given the catalog number S.204.7 and is located next to S.203.2. The original determination back in 1989 was that it was a Van Bergen design. Later information determined that it was one of two houses, with its single-story neighbor, advertised in the Chicago Tribune as Wright-designed. It turned out the mis-identification could be traced to the fact that the house had an addition of a formal dining room by Van Bergen.

#5. We discovered these houses while we were working on the Chester Bragg house (now S.202.2). Though the Bragg house had been published as a Wright house, we had been looking at it for over a decade, but had thought it was possibly a Lloyd Wright design. It turned out that it has been somewhat altered front and rear, tho not inside. When a plan “as is” was drawn, then revised based on historic photos, the building turned out to be a type S.202 with added sun porch to the rear.

The Chester Bragg home was an effort that was drawn by Lloyd in his father's office as an official Frank Lloyd Wright commission, however Lloyd was responsible for the drawings and possibly many of the details that were worked out for the home's exterior and interior woodwork and layout. Lloyd was also responsible for drawings for Ravine Bluffs (S.185-192), Milwaukee ASBH homes (S.201-204) as well as helping his brother John Lloyd Wright assist their father together on Midway Gardens sets (S.180). His efforts for his father continued with work on the Imperial Hotel, S.194 and into the twenties in California and Arizona.

But while we three were visiting this home, we did a survey, as we always do with a “find,” of the neighborhood, and saw two houses that looked suspiciously like ASBH single-story units. We visited the owners at a later time, discovered the interiors were almost identical up front, and they bore the design traits of ASBH units. They are now S.203.5 and S.203.6.

We expect there will be those who disagree with us. We welcome ideas that will help us refine our approach to identifying architectural works and their rightful creators. Please, if you do, make sure you quote chapter and verse exact details of design throughout the project of each and every collaborator you see in the project, and why that makes our decision faulty. ”Feels like” and “didn’t x do it this way?” don’t count with us, only specific identifiable characteristics of architects will carry much weight with us, unless you can produce a document with irrefutable proof of your assertions.
Thank you for your concerns,

William Allin Storrer Rich Johnson Dominique Watts

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