Category Archives: history

ASBH Features: Our 100-Year-Old Windows

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.

There are twelve zinc glass windows in the house – two in each corner of the three bedrooms, five on the south wall in the living room and one in the window beside the front door. (The three narrow doors leading to the sunporch are also zinc glass in the same design.) The rest of the windows are standard wood casement windows – most of which open fairly easily. We don’t really open the zinc glass windows very often because, well, why tempt fate with something one-of-a-kind?

The inner windows were not a part of the original design of the house. We were visited by the daughter of a former owner, the town grocer, who informed us that it was her father who had built the windows and screens. The grocer and his family lived in the house through the late 1970’s so the inner windows and screens were likely constructed around that time. You’ll also note the early-American style hinges on the windows. It seems that, it being the 1970’s and all, the grocer’s wife was a big fan off early-American style. That’s also an indication of when the windows were added.

There are also screens that were built for nine of the windows. Three screens for each of the larger bedroom, two screens for the smaller bedroom, plus one screen for the kitchen and one for the dining room. Since we know that these screens were built by the grocer, we don’t know what was originally in place. Likely, nothing. In the other ASB homes we’ve been in, we’ve seen a number of retractable and removable screens in the windows. I don’t think the original American System Built Home plans called for screens. That was likely up to the owner.

The screens and windows are numbered with helpful little pins that were sold at a time when storm windows were a more common feature houses.

I’d love to replace the early-American hinges with something that’s more in keeping with the Prairie style of our ASB home, but there are a total of 74 hinges on the windows. And that’s not including the hinges on the screen! If I include those, it would take 94 hinges to replace them all. If anyone out there has the hook-up for cheap but handsome hinges, let me know.

As the current stewards of the house, we are doing our part to care for the windows. Every summer I oil the casement stays and other hardware. Oiling not only helps extend the life of the adjusters, it makes it much easier to open and close the windows. As with any wood windows, some of them are easier to open than others. The swelling and shrinking with the seasons wreaks havoc on the wood each year. There are a few windows that are going to need a little more attention next spring.

In a house that is lacking a lot of other original features, we consider ourselves lucky to still have the windows that were installed in the house when it was built in 1917. Here’s to keeping these windows going strong for another 100 years!

All We Owe We Owe Ioway

We didn’t make it to the 2017 Iowa State Fair, alas, so we missed our chance to see the famous butter cow (literally, a cow sculpted out of butter) and her companion this year, a butter likeness of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie author’s birth. Given that this year also marks what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, and that like Wilder he also has an Iowa connection, we wonder if he was also under consideration for this honor. After all, other buttery boys have served as milkmaids in previous years at the Fair, including a simply creamy Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Garth Brooks.

But let us not be bitter over butter, or churn up any controversy here. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fine and fitting choice, especially given the dairy-themed nickname her Pa famously gave her, “Half Pint.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder Butter Sculpture via USA TODAY

via USA TODAY: Sarah Pratt standing by the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculpture

The Iowa State Fair also brings to mind that wonderful old movie, State Fair (the 1945 version, that is), with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Especially this delightful little ditty in which they really spread it on thick – the butter, AND the good ol’ Iowa “corn”.

Given the house and half acre of Iowa we’re paying a mortgage on, we might slightly adjust the song’s title to read, “All We Owe, We Owe in Ioway.” But putting aside that IOU we owe IOWA, we do also owe Ioway our thanks for its brand of good wholesome fun, which of course is not just limited to state fairs and butter sculptures. After all, Iowa is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, if not a Butter Frank – not yet anyway. We’ll do our best to butter up the selection committee for next year’s State Fair sculpture.

American System Built Homes: A Complete List of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Early Prefab Homes

Burnham Street Two Flats

When most people think of Frank Lloyd Wright they think of his impressive roster of spectacular custom designed homes. But Wright was also an early proponent of design for the masses. While his Usonian homes might be more commonly known, Wright was dabbling in prefab as early as the nineteen-teens. By 1915 Wright had partnered with Milwaukee builder Arthur Richards to create what would come to be known as American System Built Homes. The venture was interrupted by the United States’ entry to World War I (as well as infighting between Richards and Wright) but not before a number of ASB homes were built in the midwest. How many were built? We’re not sure, actually. There are a few ASB homes that have been demolished over the years and some others that are still being discovered.

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This American House: Orson Welles’ Birthplace

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Our long commute between Chicago and Iowa takes us past and through a number of towns that contain their own treasured “American houses.” On a recent drive, we pulled off the highway into Kenosha, Wisconsin to find the birthplace of the legendary filmmaker, theatrical titan, and actor Orson Welles.

Welles was born in this house, located in Kenosha’s pretty Library District, in 1915. He wasn’t a Kenosha resident for long, relocating to Chicago at age 4 upon his parents’ separation. After an affluent, nomadic childhood marred by his parents’ untimely deaths, he finally found a true “home” at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where his prodigious talents were nurtured and his illustrious career launched.

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Thereafter, Welles would express conflicted feelings about his hometown of Kenosha, at once calling it “vital and charming” and then saying it was “a terrible place.” Our brief tour through downtown Kenosha (including a delightful ride on a vintage trolley) revealed a vibrant if faded city outshone by its sparkling lakefront.

Welles’ Citizen Kane famously opens with its aged, dying protagonist gasping out his final word, “Rosebud” – a remembrance, we learn at the film’s end, of (spoiler alert!) his beloved childhood sled. I’ve not read that Welles, on his own deathbed in 1985, muttered anything at all related to Kenosha, Wisconsin or this still-lovely house, but who knows. Perhaps in his own mind at the end, he was picturing an innocent, wintry scene outside of this very house, and himself a happy young boy, but he expired just as he was about to say…

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Wright Words: Cover It in Vines

A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.

It’s been said that Frank Lloyd Wright hated garages. And, in fact, the American System Built Home designs did not include blueprints for garages. Of course, these designs were produced during the 1910’s, so garages were probably not deemed nearly as important as they would eventually become.

And yet when Delbert and Grace Meier built their American System Built Home, they also built a garage. At some point the original garage was decommissioned and a new garage, along with a roofline extension, was added. The old garage now serves as our carriage house – used for storing firewood and as a summer hangout space. That the old garage is covered in a thick layer of lush, green vines would probably please Mr. Wright. As he famously stated in the quote above, vines are the only way architects can cover their mistakes.

It’s been suggested that we try to remove the vines from the old carriage house. It’s a suggestion that we will not heed. We love the vines on the old carriage house – they way they cover the worn stucco and add a lushness to the space in the summer months. We’ve actually considered adding vines to the new garage extension which, in our opinions, is the much more unsightly building.