Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright, (1867-1959) generally regarded as America’s greatest architect, was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin – located just 20 miles from Spring Green, WI which became the setting for Taliesin East, Wright’s home and architectural headquarters for many years. His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, one of three sisters who were educated school teachers, had a dominating personality thus, determined that her son, Frank, would be an architect.

His father, William Wright, an idealistic, socially-reforming, itinerant Baptist minister was a musically talented pianist and singer, who left his family and dominating wife early in young Frank’s life. Responding to his mother’s early direction, Frank attended the engineering department of the University of Wisconsin in nearby Madison for under a year before going to Chicago in 1877 to begin his career under Lyman Sylsbee, a talented architect designing in the American Shingle Style. Five months later, Wright worked in the office of Louis Sullivan, the philosophic leader of the revolutionary cadre of young Chicago architects, who accepted the challenge to develop an American architecture not indebted to past precedent and tradition.

Sullivan had brought the skyscraper to a mature art form in Chicago, its birthplace. Wright quickly rose in that important office to become its manager and project director. Fired in 1893 and on his own, in 1895, Wright set up a studio in Oak Park where by 1900, he and the young architects in Chicago, had developed a coherent new style that began to be called, “Prairie School”.

As Wright’s career developed, a small group of prominent citizens in Mason City, Iowa was interested in building a new bank and hotel in the community. One of them, J.E.E. Markley had two daughters who were attending the Hillside School at Spring Green, Wisconsin that Wright designed in 1902. The school impressed Markely thus, he selected Wright as the architect for the new bank and hotel in Mason City, known as the Historic Park Inn Hotel.

While in Mason City to develop the bank and hotel Markley’s neighbor, Dr. G.C. Stockman commissioned Wright to design a residential home for his family, which was completed in 1908. The Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House was Wright’s first and only Prairie School style house designed in Iowa. The plan that Dr. Stockman commissioned for was an adaptation and variation of a $5,000 fireproof home designed by Wright that appeared in the April 1907 issue of “Ladies Home Journal”. This residential design was created to address the housing needs of the middle class. The plan showed a four-bedroom house in which the largest possible living space was realized by allowing living room, dining room and veranda to flow together.

In 1910, at age 43, Wright left Mason City before the Park Inn Hotel, now his only remaining hotel which became the prototype for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and the City National Bank’s construction was about to begin. Wright went back to Illinois, deserted his wife, six children and took off for Europe with his next-door neighbor, Mamah Cheney, who left her husband and two children to be with Wright. Wright’s “elopement” to Europe with Mamah, concluded his Mason City career.

It is believed that while working in Mason City, Wright discussed the possibility of designing other homes in the community. Walter Burley Griffin and Barry Byrne eventually picked up on Wright’s ideas and started a new development. In 1912, Griffin’s first two houses were completed, now recognized as the Rock Crest – Rock Glen National Historic District, which is the largest grouping of homes, unified by a common natural setting in the United States. Three more houses by Griffin, one by Byrne, one jointly by Griffin and Byrne and one by Einar Broaten followed them. In addition, William Drummond designed the Curtis Yelland house while he was in Mason City supervising the construction of the hotel and bank complex started by Wright.

Griffin would leave the United States during the development of Rock Crest – Rock Glen area to supervise the lay out of Canberra, to be Australia’s new capital, which won the international competition for its design. He left Barry Byrne in charge of his practice in the Midwest and as his possible successor.

Though there were many exceptions, exterior characteristics of the Prairie School house style included widely overhanging, low-pitched hip roofs with clean roof edges and broad, low, central chimneys; bands of windows tightly placed beneath the soffits of the projecting hip-roof lines, with an eye to making the hip roofs appear to hover over lower, more substantial- appearing wall surfaces; taller central house sections with lower projecting wings; multiple horizontal trim bands and a prominent baseboard skirt, visually bringing the entire structure strongly down to earth while making invisible, its foundation and basement windows.

Their inside flow of space emphasized the integration of the significant living areas without intervening obstruction while the design emphasized the horizontal, blunted the distinction between inside and outside and continued Wright’s mission “to destroy the box”.

In Mason City, the Stockman House (1908) represents one of the first times Wright achieved these important revolutionary goals in a small, middle class home. Mason City’s Historic Park Inn Hotel (1909) is the only remaining hotel of the six Wright designed and is the prototype for his world famous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1914-1922) and the obvious forerunner of his Midway Gardens in Chicago (1914). The City National Bank (1910) in Mason City is considered to be the best of the two banks designed by Wright.

Though Wright’s long, creative architectural career continued unremittingly for another forty years, encompassing many further, distinct periods of creativity, he would have enjoyed a significant American and international reputation had his career ended with the completion of his Prairie School period.

Biographical timeline of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School Architects who impacted Mason City:

  • 1867 Frank Lloyd Wright was born to Anna Lloyd Jones and William Wright in Richland Center, Wisconsin, their eldest son.
  • 1871 Birth of Marion Mahoney.
  • 1876 Birth year of Walter Burley Griffin and William Drummond.
  • 1883 Birth of Barry Byrne.
  • 1886 Frank Lloyd Wright attended the Engineering school of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
  • 1887 Wright employed as a draftsman by Lyman Silsbee, a skilled architect designing in the American Shingle Style in Chicago.
  • 1887 Wright joined the firm of Adler & Sullivan as a draftsman for Louis Sullivan, who had just brought Chicago’s striking new innovation, the skyscraper, to a mature art form.
  • 1889 Wright designed and built his home in Oak Park, IL helped by a loan from Louis Sullivan.
  • 1893 Wright fired by Louis Sullivan for “moonlighting”. Began independent work at Steinway Hall and in his home. Built a home studio in Oak Park, IL in 1895.
  • 1894 Wright designed the Winslow house for his friend, William Winslow, a first foretaste of the Prairie house yet to be.
  • 1895 Marion Mahoney, the second woman to graduate in architecture from MIT and the first woman licensed to practice architecture in Illinois, joined Wright in the Oak Park Studio as his draftsman.
  • 1901 Griffin joined Wright in the Oak Park Studio — the only architect in the studio permitted to do independent commissions. By 1905 Griffin had become office manager and project director for Wright.
  • 1901 Griffin designed the split-level William H. Emery house in Elmhurst, IL.
  • 1902 Wright designed the Ward Willets house in Highland Park, IL his first “Prairie” house.
  • 1902 Barry Byrne entered the Oak Park Studio as an apprentice.
  • 1902 Hillside School at Spring Green, Wisconsin designed by Wright for his mother’s sisters.
  • 1903 Wright designed the Larkin mail-order office building in Buffalo.
  • 1903 Griffin designed the Robbie Lamp house in Madison, the first small Prairie house with the “L” floor plan.
  • 1904-08 Wright designed Unity Temple in Oak Park of cast concrete.
  • 1905 Wright and Griffin part company on unfriendly terms. Griffin began independent practice in Chicago in Steinway Hall.
  • 1906 Wright designed the Robie House in Chicago.
  • 1907 Wright’s design for “A Fireproof House for $5,000” was published in a “Ladies Home Journal”.
  • 1908 Wright designed the Meyer May house in Grand Rapids Michigan.
  • 1908 Wright designed & built the Stockman house in Mason City, IA, the third of his “Concrete House Cousins” (after Tan I Deri at Spring Green and the Stephen M. B. Hunt house in La Grange).
  • 1909 Wright designed the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank in Mason City, IA.
  • 1909 Wright elopes to Europe with Mamah Cheney for “spiritual hegira”. He completed work on drawings for the German “Wasmuth Edition” of his work while there.
  • 1910 William Drummond took over supervision of construction of Park Inn Hotel – City National Bank project in Mason City. During that year designed the Curtis Yelland house on River Heights Drive. Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank project completed in same year.
  • 1910 Marion Mahoney took over design and construction of two houses at Millikin Place, Decatur, and the supervision of one designed by Wright. These are, respectively, the Robert Mueller and Adolph Mueller houses and the Irving house. She hired Griffin to do landscape design for Millikin Place.
  • 1911 Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin are married. At about the same time Griffin began the planning of what was to be his Rock Glen – Rock Crest residential development in Mason City, IA.
  • 1912 Griffin, with the help of Marion’s renderings, won the international competition to design a city plan for Canberra, to be the new capital of Australia.
  • 1912 The Arthur Rule house and the Harry Page house designed by Griffin and completed.
  • 1912-14 The Joshua Melson and James E. Blythe houses designed by Griffin and completed.
  • 1913 Griffin and party set sail for Australia. He left his practice in the hands of Barry Byrne, formerly a Wright apprentice from 1902-1908. By 1913 Byrne was under the influence of Irving Gill.
  • 1914 Wright completed Midway Gardens.
  • 1914 Wright’s wife, Mamah Cheney, her three children, a Wright draftsman and Taliesin were killed in a fire set by a deranged hired hand at Wright’s bungalow in Spring Green, WI.
  • 1914-16 Completion of Samuel Davis Drake house on Rock Crest by Einar Broaten, apparently after client unsuccessfully requested client to have Griffin design his house.
  • 1914-15 Griffin’s Sam Schneider house in Rock Glen completed under supervision of Barry Byrne, who later added two upstairs sleeping porches.
  • 1914-19 Wright designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.
  • 1915 Griffin’s Hugh Gilmore House, in the Rock Glen area in Mason City, IA, was built for James Blythe under the supervision of Barry Byrne. Byrne probably modified original design.
  • 1917 Barry Byrne completed his E. V Franke house in Rock Glen district in Mason City, IA.
  • 1917 Hollyhock house built on Hollywood Boulevard for Aline Barnsdall by Wright.  A transitional design between Prairie School and the concrete blockhouses.
  • 1919-22 Construction of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.
  • 1933 Wright’s Malcolm E. Willey house, in Minneapolis, a transition between Taliesin I and the first Usonian house.
  • 1935 Wright’s Falling Water – a concrete house with multiple cantilever balconies built over a waterfall on Bear Run Creek in Pennsylvania. Wright’s very effective answer to the International Style, and, arguably, his most famous house.
  • 1935 Griffin traveled to Lucknow, India, where he will reinvent his architectural style to conform to Indian needs.
  • 1936 The Jacobs house, Madison, Wisconsin, Wright’s first Usonian house.
  • 1936 Wright’s Johnson Wax Administration Building, Racine, WI.
  • 1937  Death of Walter Burley Griffin in India from peritonitis following a fall from scaffolding at a building site.
  • 1945 Lowell and Agnes Walter house, Cedar Rock on the Wapsipinnicon River in Quasqueton, Iowa, one of Wright’s signature houses.
  • 1946 Death of William Drummond.
  • 1952 Wright’s Price Towers, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a mini-skyscraper with four apartments on each floor, each cantilevered out from a central service column.
  • 1956 Paul and Ida Trier house, Johnston, Iowa. One of Wright’s Iowa USOnian houses.
  • 1956 Wright designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, an art museum in a circular snail-shell design providing a continuous, sky lit circular ramp for the display of objects of Modern Art.
  • 1956 Three Marshall Erdman prefab house plans designed by Wright. Marshall Erdman is the same firm that designed the Mason City Clinic in a Neo-Prairie School style.
  • 1957 Wright’s Marin County Civic Center.
  • 1959 Death of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • 1959 Usonian House in Rock Glen designed by Curtis Besinger for Tom MacNider.  Besinger had been a Taliesin apprentice at the time the concept of the Usonian house was being developed. Besinger was chair of the University of Kansas Department of Architecture when he did this design.
  • 1962 Death of Marion Mahoney in America.
  • 1967 Death of Barry Byrne.
  • 1997 Monona Terrace, built almost 60 years after Wright first proposed the plan for its site leading up from Lake Monona to the State Capitol at the summit of a short hill. The number of Wright’s buildings built posthumously gives ample evidence of his continuing popularity in our land.
  • 2002 Avenue of the Arts Bridge, connecting Minneapolis Institute of the Arts with Minneapolis Convention Center. Designed after a previous Broad Acre City bridge design by Wright.