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
Last Monday marked the 59th anniversary of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright. Just three months before Wright’s passing in 1959, another visionary departed this world: Delbert W. Meier, the man who, with his wife Grace, boldly decided to build a Wright-designed American System-Built Home in a small town in northeastern Iowa in 1917, and lived happily thereafter and, indeed, passed on in that house – this “American house.”
Del Meier was the beneficiary of a very colorful obituary in the local newspaper, The Monona Leader, which we post here in tribute. We’ll leave it to Simon and Garfunkel to properly fete Frank on this anniversary.
D.W. Meier Funeral Held
Funeral services for Delbert William Meier, 78, were held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 10, at 2 o’clock at the Schultz Funeral home with Rev. E. Wayne Hilmer officiating.
Burial was in the City cemetery.
Mr. Meier died at his home Thursday morning, Jan. 8, at 3:30 o’clock from a heart attack. He had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time.
Music at the services was provided by Mrs. George Martin, soloist. She was accompanied by Mrs. Ivon J. Schultz at the piano.
Honorary pallbearers were: H.T. Orr, G.F. Fox, K.W. Rash, Edward Wirkler, Reuben Bernhard, Clayton County Bankers association, and Clayton County bar association.
Active pallbearers were: F.J. Peglow, Elmer Kurth, George Martin, W.C. Kruse, Ivon J. Schultz, George Wiethorn, Raymond Mielke, and William Hubacher.
Mr. Meier was born on a farm north of Postville, May 6, 1880, the son of John H. and Louisa (Splies) Meier. He was one of five children. Milo S. Meier of Minneapolis, Minn., is the only one who remains.
In that early day, life was rigorous, but he and an older brother spent many happy hours wandering over the wooded hills and fertile fields.
Then there was the country school to which they traveled with their swinging dinner pails for their early education. The family moved to Postville, later, so the children could have a better education.
He graduated from high school, then entered Upper Iowa university at Fayette. He was a good student and became a member of the debating team which won high honors for the school. His liking for forensics helped him decide to study law.
In the fall of 1903 he entered the University of Chicago, graduating there in 1905, taking two degrees, bachelor of philosophy and doctor of jurisprudence.
Then the question arose where to “hang out the shingle.” Being of a venturesome spirit, Indian territory seemed a likely place, so accordingly, Tulsa, Okla., was the town of his choice.
While in college he had met Miss Grace Estelle Burgess. They were married in 1903.
Not liking the climate in the southern territory, the couple returned to Iowa and Mr. Meier took over the law office of Ed Otis.
Two children were born to the couple, Esther, now Mrs. John Roberts of Darlington, England; and Martha, now Mrs. Walter Renk of Sun Prairie, Wis. These, with two grandchildren, John and Richard Renk, and a new great-grandchild, Wyatt Farley Renk, survive him.
Mr. and Mrs. Meier have resided in Monona for more than fifty years. On Dec. 28, recently, they celebrated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Mr. Meier served in official capacity in the town as mayor, and on the town council. As a school board member, he was instrumental in building the new addition to the “old building,” and the construction of the present one, serving again as a member of the board. At the time of his death, Mr. Meier was serving as president and director of the Union State Bank, in which capacity he faithfully served for many years. He was a life-long member of the Iowa State Bar association.
During World war I, he was a member of the Clayton County Draft board, and during World war II he served for a time as government appeal agent. For this effort he was given citations from two presidents, a selective service medal in the name of congress of the United States, signed by Harry S. Truman, and a certificate of appreciation signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
So passes another of the older residents of Monona. Few are left who took part in the social and business life of the town when he opened his office here in 1907.
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.
The very first Frank Lloyd Wright-designed glass I ever looked through was a highball containing a vodka soda. We’d bought a beautiful set of Miller Rogaska barware (made for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on our very first visit to Spring Green back in 1999. Alas, much of that barware hasn’t survived the years, but we still have a few existing glasses, a decanter, and an ice bucket in regular service. As I look out now through our genuine Frank Lloyd Wright-designed windows – sometimes with a highball in hand – I often reflect upon our journey “through the looking-glass” into our own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Wonderland here at the Delbert Meier House. And it all started with these drinking glasses. Bottoms up, Mr. Wright!
It may be fleeting, but our house was mentioned in The New York Times over the weekend. The article, entitled How to Sell a Frank Lloyd Wright Home, outlines some of the difficulties of selling the architect’s famous (and famously temperamental) houses. And, if I’m honest, the potential resale of our house gave us pause when were considering the purchase. But of course that didn’t stop us from moving forward.
When The Mister first nudged me and said, “Hey, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house that’s in our price range,” I scoffed.
“It must need a lot of work,” I replied.
“It doesn’t look like it,” he said, and then immediately sent an email to the real estate agent to inquire about the house’s condition.
We learned from the agent that the house was in great shape with a newer furnace, recent roof and strong structural integrity. It all seemed too good to be true so we made the 4-1/2 hour trek west to see it in person. And that sealed the deal. The moment we walked in and saw the old windows and the spacious living room with the big, brick fireplace, we were hooked. Sale or resale be damned, we knew this had to be our house!
One of the reasons the sale price on our house was so low is that it’s in a rural part of Iowa where home prices have remained low. But perhaps another reason is that people don’t want old houses anymore. In the little town where the Delbert Meier House is located, the big old homes languish on the market while new construction homes get snapped up fairly quickly.
With all of this in mind, we’ve definitely tempered our plans for the house. Before we took possession we had talked about restoring the house back to its original 1917 state. This would require rebuilding the wardrobes that were removed from the bedrooms, gutting the kitchen and removing the carport addition that was added to the house in the 1960s. That last part would require the largest investment. We invited an architectural firm from Mason City to the house to give us an estimate on the work. Sticker shock shortly ensued. Knowing that we likely won’t be able to sell the house for much more than we paid for it, we’re not quite willing to take on those big projects.
Instead, we’re making minor changes that will make the house more livable while also maintaining its original character. We’re trying to preserve what’s left of the house’s original features – the casement windows and original slap dash stucco – while also making it livable in the 21st century.
Because that’s the thing about our house – it must remain livable. Our house will never become a museum or tourist destination (although we do get our fair share of visitors interested in its history). Instead, t must remain a habitable home that can be passed on to another set of passionate owners at some point.
Of course, if we ever came into a giant sum of money, this might all change. So if you’re reading this and you’re a wealthy benefactor interested in investing in architectural history, let’s talk!