Category Archives: American System-Built Home

A Visit to the Elizabeth Murphy House

The Owners of the Elizabeth Murphy House in Milwaukee, WI

As we’ve written about in the past, one of the wonderful advantages of owning one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s American System-Built Homes is becoming part of a network of stewards who are interested not only in their own home but in the ASBH project as a whole. Over the past five years of ownership of the Meier house, we’ve had the privilege of spending time with many ASBH stewards in their homes. We meet to share stories and compare notes, to break bread and break down history and, of course, to give tours of our homes.

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History Repeating: Snow on the Meier House

Meier House in Winter

The below photo of the Meier House from the 1920s was sitting on the kitchen counter when we first toured it. Looking back, that was a smart touch by the sellers and real estate agent. We had driven five hours northwest of the city to see a house that we didn’t think we would actually buy. (Or did we?) They couldn’t have known it but these two guys who were about to walk through the house love a little bit of history. Throwing down a couple of black and white photos is like tossing a dog a bone. We panted over the old photos of the house before bouncing around its empty and echoey rooms, oohing and ahhing and planning what we’d do with it.

The Delbert Meier House pictured in the 1920s

It’s one of only two photos of the house as it used to look. The other photo, standing directly in front of the house, was taken at the same time. In both photos the snow looks like it’s drifting off the middle of the roof on the front of the house.

Romantics that we are, we’ve looked at these photos many times over the past five years of homeownership. We’re looking back at how the house used to look, sure, but we also find ourselves thinking about what life in this big, boxy house in this small, Iowa town must have been like back then. Why did the Meier choose this day – and not a beautiful summer afternoon – to photograph their house? And how is that snow drift just hanging off the roof like that?

It’s that last question that we may finally be able to answer. During a recent snowstorm and deep freeze here in the midwest, we noticed that snow had collected in the same spot as in the vintage photos. Directly above the front door and in line with the belvedere up at the top of the house, a drift of snow seems to be dangling off the edge of the roof. Scroll up to the top of this post and look for yourself.

In our years of ownership, this is the first time we’ve noticed this snow drift phenomenon. Perhaps this is a clue about why the house was photographed that day. Perhaps the Meiers had just experienced a big snowfall and deep freeze, much like the one we’re experiencing here in the 21st century. They may have been documenting the weather, a photo that they would include in a letter to relatives in which they’d share their experience hunkering down and staying warm in front of the fireplace.

It’s in these moments that we feel a closeness to the house’s original owners. It’s also a reminder that we are total nerds who spend too much time imagining life in the past!

Golden Hour on a Cold Wintry Day

Don’t let the golden glow of the evening sun illuminating the sun porch fool you. This is one of those cold winter days that makes Iowa feel like Siberia. Thank God for central heating! We’ve had the thermostat cranked up to 71 degrees today trying to battle the arctic air that makes its way through the drafty old doors and windows. But somehow the cold air always seems to win.

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Welcoming Visitors to the Delbert Meier House

Copies of photos from the 1920s are taped to the garage wall to show visitors how the house would have looked before additions.

We knew when we bought the Delbert Meier House that we would receive visits from people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and the American System-Built Homes. The couple we bought the house from – who had only owned it for about three years – attested to this at the closing by sharing stories of drop-ins. And they were correct – we started getting visits from those interested in the house and its history almost immediately.

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The American System-Built Home Revival in Atlantic City

This Zillow image shows the house at 212 N. Tennessee

When Frank Lloyd Wright and Arthur Richards partnered on the American System-Built Home project in the 1910’s, they surely envisioned a large scale endeavor that would see their houses popping up all across America. After all, Wright prepared hundreds of designs and was known to think big. Unfortunately, he was also known to be difficult to work with. By 1917, the relationship between Wright and Richards had soured and, with America entering World War, the ASBH project had all but fizzled. Continue reading