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.
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
Our American System Built home, named the Delbert Meier house after the first owner, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. One of the advantages of owning an architecturally significant house in a small town is that we’ve been able to meet every owner or descendent in the house’s 100-year history. Here’s a brief history of the ownership of our the Delbert Meier house (with some names removed to respect privacy). Continue reading
Taking ownership of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home means becoming the steward of a piece of architectural history. The people who are willing to undertake such a responsibility share a passion for history and architecture. (And we may all have a screw loose, too.) After buying the Delbert Meier house in 2013, we started reaching out to fellow owners of American System Built homes. Birds of a feather and all that.
Last weekend we were invited to a gathering of some of the Chicago area American System Built Home owners. The owners of the Guy Smith house hosted The Mister and myself along with the owners of the H. Howard Hyde house and the Oscar Johnson house. We had all met last summer when the Guy Smiths* celebrated their 100th anniversary with a party. This weekend’s dinner was to bring us all together again to share house stories.
The Guy Smith and H. Howard Hyde houses are located on the same street in the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s far south side. The Guy Smith is one of the larger ASBH models and has been lovingly restored and maintained over the years. The H. Howard Hyde house is very similar to our own home and is under new ownership. We had been inside both houses last summer during the Guy Smith’s anniversary party but it was nice to return to spend more time in the Smith house.
(The Oscar Johnson house is located in Evanston, a Chicago suburb. We’ve also had the opportunity to visit the Johnson house on a couple of occasions.)
Bringing the four owners (we’re all couples so it’s actually eight owners) together was a great idea. We’re all in different stages of ownership and conservation/renovation. The Guy Smiths have been in their house for over twenty years and have done a lot of work to maintain their home. The Howard Hydes purchased their home just last year and are in the beginning stages of exploring the history of American System Built Homes. The Oscar Johnsons, a couple with two small children, have owned their house for about ten years and rehabbing their home in fits and starts when times allows. And then there’s us – the owners of the Delbert Meier house. You probably already know our story. We’re the guys who are also taking the tortoise approach to the rehab race – slow and steady.
We all traded war stories about rehab surprises, architectural features that have been lost to time and why you should never tell a contractor that you own a Wright house. (There’s no quicker way to see the price of a project skyrocket than to let someone know that your home has some historical significance.) The owners of the Smith house had prepared packets of information that they had gathered from the Wright archives. As we supped at the Prairie-style dining table, we perused the documents and talked about our different experiences as owners of ASB homes. In going through the documents and sharing experiences, it became clear that we all view our homes as passion projects. Birds of a feather indeed.
Our hearty thanks to all the owners for gathering for the dinner. And a special thanks to the owners of the Guy Smith house for coordinating and hosting.
The Guy Smith house was recently featured in a segment on WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station. Watch the segment to learn more about that house as well as the other Wright-designed homes in Beverly.
*In the interest of privacy, I’m referring to each owner by the the name of their house.
For a 100-year-old-house, the original wood casement windows in our American System System Built Home are in excellent condition. This is largely due to the fact that the house has been fortunate enough to pass from caring owner to caring owner. We learned from the grocer’s daughter, for instance, that it was her father who had carefully reglazed the windows and built the interior (storm) windows and screens. And according to a longtime neighbor, the windows were a point of pride for the teacher who owned the house for many years after the grocer sold it. The neighbor told us that the teacher spent his summer breaks tending to the house and preserving the wood windows.