Category Archives: American System-Built Home

Our Winter Excursion to the Stockman House
And the Discovery of a Scale Model of our American System Built Home

Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa

Since buying our American System Built house in Northeast Iowa last year, we’ve been planning to visit all of the other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the state. There was talk over the summer of taking a weekend trek to Mason City to tour the Stockman House and the Historic Park Inn, both of which were under construction a few years before our house was built. As it turns out, our own house projects trumped any plans for a road trip this summer.

We finally had the occasion to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Mason City last week. And while the extremely cold temperatures kept us from fully appreciating all that Mason City has to offer, we did get to tour the Stockman house. We’ve been particularly interested in seeing the Stockman House because it is very similar in design to our own home. Built in 1909, the Stockman is based on Wright’s fireproof home designs, which is a style that the architect relied heavily on when he was designing the American System homes.

We were hoping to glean some tips on the restoration of our own home by visiting the Stockman house. And while we did get a few ideas from our tour, the real treat of the trip was stumbling upon a scale model of our own home.

Scale model of the Delbert Meier House

We had just walked into the Architectural Interpretive Center adjacent to the Stockman house and were trying to warm up when the docent asked us about our connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Oh,” The Mister replied, “we actually own one of his American System Built homes here in Iowa.”

“You mean this one?” the docent asked as she pointed toward a little house made of balsa wood.Scale model of the Delbert Meier House at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City, Iowa

“Mister!” he called from across the room. “They have our house!”

The fact that there is a scale model of our house is not a total surprise. We knew through a previous email exchange with a professor of architecture that models had been created of all of the Wright homes in Iowa, including our American System Built home. We did not, however, know that the models still existed. And we certainly had no idea that the model of our house was on display in Mason City. What a wonderful surprise!

Scale model of Delbert Meier House

The model was built by Raymond Gandayuwana and Derek Quang and is a very accurate depiction not only of the house but the landscape surrounding it. From the windows to the trim and even down to the gradient in the landscaping, the model is an amazing representation of our home as it would have looked before the front facade was altered. There is one window missing from the second floor of the model house, but why quibble over small details?

MORE WRIGHT IN IOWA INFORMATION:

Images: This American House

Happy Anniversary to the Delbert Meier House

Delbert Meier

On this date exactly 97 years ago, November 10, 1917, the Meier family moved into their newly constructed American System-Built House. At the time, Delbert Meier was a 37-year-old attorney; his wife, Grace, was 38. Daughter Esther was 12, and her younger sister Martha was 8. What an exciting day that must have been for that young family, moving into their beautiful architectural wonder of a house! As you can see in thew local newspaper clipping above, the Meiers’ move-in date was big news.

The Meier family would go on to occupy the house until the mid-1960’s. Martha and Grace grew up and moved out in the late 1920’s but Delbert and Grace stayed on. Delbert passed away (probably IN the house) in 1959, coincidentally the same year that Frank Lloyd Wright passed on. Grace remained in residence until her death in 1964.

Delbert Meier and Grace Meier, Monona, Iowa | This American House

We stopped by the cemetery yesterday to pay our respects to Mr. and Mrs. Meier and to thank them for building this grand house. We feel like we’ve adopted the family as much as the house.

The Mister and I are coming up on our one year anniversary of living in the house. We haven’t gotten very far in the projects we have planned for the house but we have enjoyed every single second we’ve spent here. Thanks again, Delbert and Grace Meier, for building this gorgeous home.

Images: This American House

Came Glasswork: The Windows Are the Soul of Our House

Original Zinc Glass Windows on Our American System Built Home | This American House

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, as the old saying goes, then the windows are the soul of our house. One of the few original features remaining, the windows are also one of the first things that made us fall in love with the house. I don’t mean the number of windows in each room – although that certainly won us over in an instant. I’m talking about the actual 97-year-old original windows. And, in particular, the art glass windows that are in each corner of the upstairs rooms and along the large wall in the living room.

Plans for Zinc Glass Windows for American System Built homes | This American House

We got confirmation from the house plans that we dug up at the Avery Library that the art glass windows are indeed original to the house. We has initially assumed that the windows are lead glass but they are in fact zinc glass. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to us since Frank Lloyd Wright used zinc glass in many of the homes he designed, including the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois.

The technical, design-y term for this kind of glass is came glasswork. As wikipedia says, “Came glasswork is the process of joining cut pieces of art glass through the use of came strips or foil into picturesque designs in a framework of soldered metal.” Although lead is perhaps the most common material used in came glasswork, brass, copper and zinc can also be used. According to Wikipedia, “Zinc makes a lightweight, strong and rigid came, which lends itself to glasswork projects that don’t have many curved lines, are large, or have a number of straight lines that require greater support than lead would afford.” With the straight lines and large panes in our windows, it definitely makes sense that Wright would specify zinc in the plans.

Zinc Glass Windows in the Delbert Meier House | This American House

That these windows, with their wood frames and zinc came, have endured for 97 years is a testament to good house stewardship. Although many of the other original features in the house were pulled out 40+ years ago, the windows remain. They not only remain, actually, they’ve been lovingly maintained and restored over the years.

When we finally met Peter and Becky, the house’s owners for more than thirty years, and the folks responsible for giving the house its birth”wright”, as they say, we commented on our love of the windows. Peter piped up that the windows weren’t always so nice. Years of summer rainstorms and winter freezes hadn’t been kind to the zinc glass windows (or any of the windows for that matter). Peter made it his mission to get the windows back in shape and keep them that way. He cleaned up the rotting wood and had the zinc came glasswork encased to protect and restore it. We’re eternally grateful to Peter for making the windows his personal project for so many years.

Images: This American House and The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

Meeting the People Who Used to Call Our House Home

The Delbert Meier House circa the 1920's | This American House

We’ve always been romantics, The Mister and I. We’re the kind of guys who’ve always rented vintage apartments with charm instead of modern homes with convenience. Dating back to our very first apartment, we’ve chosen character over comfort. Our first time cohabitating was in a two bedroom mid-century building not far from Wrigley Field. The Mister had left it up to me to choose our first apartment. He was working weekends a lot back then and, well, I was the more opinionated of the two of us when it came to housing. Or at least I thought I was.

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House Research: What We Learned About Our American System Built-Home on A Trip to Avery Library

American System Built Home model M202 plans | This American House

On our trip out East last month, The Mister and I made a pit stop at The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. We had learned that the Frank Lloyd Wright archives were moved from Taliesen West, where they had been gathered and preserved by Mrs. Wright upon her husband’s death in 1959, to the Avery Library. More importantly, we learned that there was a big file on Wright’s American System-Built homes. We made an appointment to peruse the stacks and crossed our fingers that we would unearth some new details about our house.

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